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Kentucky Lawmakers Urge Bevin Not To Pursue Election Contest

Kyeland Jackson

A growing number of lawmakers from both political parties are calling on Republican Gov. Matt Bevin to not pursue an official contest of Tuesday’s election totals that showed him losing to Democratic challenger Andy Beshear by more than 5,000 votes.

So far Bevin has requested a recanvass of the totals — a process where county clerks around the state will double check their vote totals on Nov. 14.

But Bevin has made unsubstantiated claims that there were deeper problems with the election, laying the groundwork for an election contest. That would mean the race would be decided by the Republican-led legislature.


Rep. Travis Brenda, a Republican from Cartersville, said that without any evidence, Bevin is setting a bad precedent for future elections.

“Whether someone likes the outcome or not, we have to accept it and go on,” Brenda said. “The governor’s made comments in the past that have not been true. So if there’s proof, provide the evidence and let it be investigated. But we don’t need to be hearing a bunch of comments that have no basis.”

Beshear has declared victory in the race, which unofficial totals show him winning by 5,189 votes. On Wednesday he began the process of taking over the governorship.

Aggrieved candidates for Kentucky governor only have two options to challenge election results — a recanvass or an election contest.

A recanvass is a common procedure that sometimes produces minor changes in vote totals, but has never changed the outcome of an election in Kentucky.

If Bevin were to pursue an election contest, he would only have to request one and outline his allegations in a complaint that would be reviewed by the legislature. The legislature would then form a committee formed of eleven members of the House of Representatives and three members of the Senate — all randomly selected — to review the allegations.

Bevin cannot file for an election contest until the vote is finalized by the State Board of Elections on Nov. 25. At that point, Bevin would have one month to request the election contest.

Inauguration Day is Dec. 10, meaning Bevin could still file the contest after Beshear is sworn into office.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville, said Bevin would be undermining the democratic process if he seeks to resolve the election in the legislature.

“Barring significant and documented irregularities, there is no reason to try and overturn the voters, McGarvey said. “Making baseless accusations after losing an election is harmful to the Democratic process.”

The last time an election contest took place in Kentucky was 1899 when Democrat William Goebel challenged the result of a close election with Republican William Taylor.

Goebel was fatally shot while the Democratic-led legislature deliberated over the election contest and was ultimately sworn in on his deathbed.

Republicans hold commanding majorities in both of Kentucky’s legislative chambers — 61 out of 100 seats in the House and 29 out of 38 seats in the Senate.

In a Facebook post, Louisville Republican Rep. Jason Nemes said that Bevin should pursue the recanvass, but drop his challenge if he doesn’t have any concrete evidence of wrongdoing.

“This is not an opportunity for a fishing expedition or a chance to overturn the election result,” Nemes wrote. “Governor-elect Beshear is entitled to the democratic legitimacy that comes with loser’s consent. So let’s go through the process honorably and expeditiously and give it to him.”

Republican Rep. Daniel Elliott of Danville urged Bevin concede after the recanvass if he doesn’t produce proof of irregularities.

“I will not participate or support any effort to invalidate the election results from last night as a member of the Kentucky General Assembly as the people of Kentucky have spoken, and we must honor that result if elections and the democratic process are to have any meaning in Kentucky and America,” Elliott wrote in a Facebook post.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, was the first to bring up the possibility of an election contest due to the closeness of the race on Election Night.

On Thursday, Stivers issued a statement saying it is the governor’s prerogative to request the contest.

“If such a situation arises when the Senate’s involvement is required as prescribed by the Kentucky Constitution, our chamber will fulfill its requirements with the upmost objectivity and impartiality,” Stivers said.

House Speaker David Osborne issued a statement saying that if Bevin requested an election contest, House Republicans would “handle the matter in a legal, ethical, and appropriate manner.”

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, said it was inappropriate for lawmakers to weigh in on the possibility of an election contest because of their possible role in settling one.

“I’m keeping my powder dry, I think it’s the best thing to do right now. Let the recanvass work and let’s see where we are after the recanvass,” Thayer said.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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