LEXINGTON, Ky. — On Thursday morning, every county board of election in Kentucky will meet to recanvass the results of the Nov. 5 election for governor.
The recanvass comes at the request of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who lost last Tuesday by 0.38 percentage points to Democratic Gov.-elect Andy Beshear. A recanvass is relatively common in close races, but Kentucky hasn’t seen one in a statewide race since the last time Bevin was running for office, when he beat U.S. Rep. James Comer by 83 points in the Republican Primary in 2015.
Here are five things to know heading into Thursday’s recanvass.
— What is a recanvass?
A recanvass is basically double checking to make sure each county got its numbers right on election night. That means checking the vote totals of every voting machine in the county and adding them up to make sure the number matches what was given to the State Board of Elections on Election Day.
The process also involves checking absentee ballot totals, which is important because Bevin has claimed that thousands of absentee ballots were illegally counted without providing any evidence to back up his claim. Election officials won’t check the votes on every ballot.
Fayette County uses electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper record of each vote, so election officials will meet Thursday to check the “tapes,” a report the machine spits out after everyone has voted, to verify vote totals.
— Is that the same as a recount?
No. A recount involves recounting each individual vote.
First, in a weird twist of Kentucky election law, neither candidate can ask a judge to request a recount, unlike people running for other statewide offices. Instead, the losing candidate would have to contest the election with the state legislature. A committee of 11 lawmakers would then have the ability to order a recount if they wished.
In counties that use paper ballots, election officials would scan each ballot again and recount each absentee ballot.
In Fayette County and other counties that use electronic voting machines that don’t produce a paper record, a recount is basically the same thing as a recanvass. There’s no way to go back and check every ballot, so the total the machine provides is the final tally. The only number that could potentially change in Fayette County would be absentee ballot totals, because those are still filled out on paper.
— Is it likely a recanvass will change the election outcome?
Recanvasses generally don’t change vote totals very much, according to Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins.
“I would be very surprised if even one vote changes,” Blevins said of the Fayette County totals.
That’s mostly because of the process.
“It’s roughly the equivalent to checking to make sure a spreadsheet can add correctly,” Blevins said.
Even recounts rarely make a difference in the outcome of elections that are decided by more than a handful of votes.
In 2018, the average margin changed by a recount in statehouse or lower races was 4.77 votes, according to data compiled by the Republican Party of Kentucky earlier this year for an election contest by former state Rep. D.J. Johnson. In that contest, nine additional votes were found in the recount — five for the Republican and four for the Democrat.
Bevin lost to Beshear by 5,189 votes, according to the State Board of Election’s unofficial votes.
— When will we know the results?
The recanvass starts at 9 a.m. and it shouldn’t take more than a few hours for all counties to report their numbers to Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Once Grimes has received all of the recanvass reports, she can present it to the State Board of Elections. The board is scheduled to meet Nov. 21 to certify the results of the election, but given the interest in the results of the recanvass, Grimes said she will post the results on her website Thursday afternoon.
— What comes next?
Many Republicans have urged Bevin to concede the race if the recanvass doesn’t significantly alter vote totals and if he can’t provide hard evidence of the massive vote fraud he has alleged.
It’s possible Bevin will release information related to his claims after the recanvass — he told reporters his campaign was collecting affidavits last week — but so far no election officials have corroborated Bevin’s claims.
If Bevin refuses to concede, his next step would be an election challenge. That would send the race to the legislature, where they would create a committee of eight House members and three Senate members. That committee could take depositions and then make a report to a joint session of the General Assembly, which would then decide the matter in a vote.
Several lawmakers have said they do not want to get involved and that Bevin would have to provide significant evidence of wrongdoing before lawmakers would consider taking action that might change the outcome of an election.
This weekend, Bevin did not seem particularly ready to concede.
“I would rather lose a clean election than win a dirty election,” Bevin told a group of the Young Americans for Freedom in California. “And I’ll be darned if I want to lose a dirty election.”
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