Saturday, 11 Jul 2020

As Kentucky Rechecks Votes, Many Are Ready to Move On. The Governor Is Not.

Each of Kentucky’s 120 counties will spend about an hour Thursday morning double-checking the vote totals from Election Day last week, a procedure requested by the state’s incumbent governor after he lost the contest by about 5,000 votes.

On the eve of the recanvass — which is widely expected to confirm the victory of Attorney General Andy Beshear, the Democratic challenger — it seemed that nearly everyone was ready to put the election behind them.

The state has begun preparing for a new administration, and Mr. Beshear has named the head of his transition team and the grand marshals of his inauguration parade.

The House Republican caucus has invited Mr. Beshear to its annual retreat to discuss areas of possible policy agreement. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majordomo of Kentucky Republicans, told a reporter for The Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday that, “barring some dramatic reversal on the recanvass, we’ll have a different governor in three weeks.”

Still, there remains at least one person who is not so ready to move on: Gov. Matt Bevin.

“We are not conceding this race by any stretch,” Mr. Bevin declared from the podium at his election party last week. “We want the process to be followed.”

Given the simplicity of the procedure and the statistical closeness of the final margin — less than half a percent of 1.4 million votes cast — many in Kentucky saw Mr. Bevin’s call for a recanvass as perfectly justifiable, though such an effort has not in recent memory overturned an election.

But there were reasons to believe he might not stop with that effort, regardless of outcome. In his election night speech, Mr. Bevin spoke of “more than a few irregularities,” which the next day became “thousands of absentee ballots that were illegally counted.” He gave no specifics for the explosive allegations.

And so Kentucky finds itself asking: What happens if the recanvass leaves the result effectively unchanged? Would Mr. Bevin concede? Or would he take a step not taken in a Kentucky governor’s race in 120 years and formally contest the election before the State Legislature?

“It would be very difficult, very difficult for the governor to win,” said Robert Stivers, a Republican and the State Senate president. “And in my opinion — but I don’t have a say about this — it would be best for him to call Andy Beshear the governor-elect and say it’s time to move forward.”

Mr. Bevin does not apparently see things this way.

At a conservative youth conference this past weekend in California, Mr. Bevin was asked about fighting domestic enemies. He brought up the governor’s race and talked about people who aim “to hijack our political process,” who are talking of Russia collusion while “at the back gate robbing us blind.” He denounced electronic voting as unaccountable and spoke ominously of voting by noncitizens and dead people, “multiple times even.”

If the process is followed and he is found to have lost, Mr. Bevin said, he would concede. But, he cautioned, “I’ll be darned if I want to lose a dirty election.”

Mr. Bevin’s campaign did not return multiple messages.

Under Kentucky law, a candidate is entitled to demand a recanvass. If it does not dramatically change the tally from last Tuesday, Mr. Bevin could then formally contest the election. The last time this happened in a governor’s race was in 1899; the declared winner was shot and killed afterward.

A contest would put the question before the Kentucky Legislature, which would be obligated to hear Mr. Bevin’s case and receive any evidence he could produce of outcome-altering malfeasance.

Few know, at this point, what this evidence could be. On Wednesday, a group led by a Bevin supporter and appointee held a news conference in the State Capitol, highlighting “voting and vote count irregularities.” These included discrepancies in reported county vote totals and screenshots of CNN’s election night coverage in which votes “mysteriously” disappeared from Mr. Bevin’s column and “magically appeared” in Mr. Beshear’s.

Several county clerks have publicly dismissed some of these claims, explaining that such minor discrepancies are routine before the vote is official.

Frank Simon, the director of the American Family Association of Kentucky, said he personally paid for about 98,000 robocalls urging people to report “suspected voter fraud” to the state board of elections. In an email, Dr. Simon wrote that people had responded with “certainly substantial allegations,” but he did not elaborate.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky secretary of state, said in an interview that she had fielded calls about Election Day issues but had so far heard nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly nothing that could account for a 5,000-plus vote differential.

A Democrat who is leaving office because of term limits, Ms. Grimes invited her Republican successor, Michael Adams, to observe the recanvass with her on Thursday.

“I would like him to have the experience of seeing what this process is like,” she said, “and not having his first experience be the 2020 election.”

If he were to contest the results, Mr. Bevin would not only have to come up with significant numbers of questionable ballots, he would also need proof that these votes had changed the outcome. This, many Republicans said, sets an almost insurmountably high bar.

“The percentage is slim, but 5,000 votes is a lot of votes,” said Adam Koenig, a Republican state representative from northern Kentucky. “For there to be systemic fraud it would take a pretty big conspiracy from people of both parties.”

Jason Nemes, a Republican representative from Louisville, said this was a widespread sentiment.

“The mood among the legislators that I’ve spoken with,” he said, “is that once Thursday comes and goes, if nothing moves — and we don’t anticipate anything moving — then the governor should concede and we should move on.”

The Kentucky Legislature is solidly Republican, but if Mr. Bevin were counting on a backstop of staunch allies he has hardly done the groundwork. Over the course of his term, he vetoed legislation and had vetoes overridden, drew public condemnation from Republican legislators for his disparaging comments about teachers and accused Republican leaders of either not knowing what they were doing or intentionally misleading the voters.

One Republican legislator hosted a “Bullied By Bevin” picnic in September. Another, Representative Robert Goforth, challenged Mr. Bevin for governor in this year’s Republican primary and garnered more than 100,000 votes.

“We have gotten a lot accomplished,” Mr. Goforth said of the past four years under Mr. Bevin’s governorship. “But I think there has been a strained relationship with the legislature.”

He was careful not to go into specifics beyond that. But he did say that if Mr. Bevin pursued a contest, even before a Republican Legislature, “there will be no political home cooking whatsoever.”

Ryland Barton contributed reporting from Frankfort, Ky.

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