When the election returns came in Tuesday evening, the tallies for governor were razor-close, with the Democratic challenger, Attorney General Andy Beshear, ahead of the Republican incumbent, Gov. Matt Bevin, by 5,086 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast. Mr. Beshear claimed victory, but Mr. Bevin has refused to concede defeat.
Now what? How will Kentucky settle who will be governor for the next term?
The state’s Constitution and laws provide for several measures to decide a close or disputed election, and experts say that in the end, the voters may not have the final say. Here are the basics.
The election can be recanvassed.
The simplest step is to recanvass the election, which basically means double-checking that county election boards across the state correctly added up the totals from voting machines before reporting them to the county clerk. The process can be completed in a day.
Candidates have a week after an election to ask for a recanvass, but Mr. Bevin did not wait that long; he put in his request on Wednesday. It will be conducted next Thursday.
Is the recanvass likely to change the outcome?
Probably not. Past recanvasses have usually yielded only very modest revisions. “In every instance, the vote totals change by a very small amount,” said Joshua A. Douglas, a professor of law at the University of Kentucky. He added that any revisions would probably come “nowhere near” closing the gap between Mr. Bevin and Mr. Beshear.
What about a recount?
State law appears to rule out a full ballot-by-ballot recount. There is a provision for candidates to petition a state district court to order a recount for certain races, but the law specifically excludes elections for governor and lieutenant governor, among others.
The election can be contested in the Legislature.
The State Board of Elections has until Nov. 25 to certify the results, including whatever changes arise from a recanvass. State law gives each candidate 30 days to formally apply to contest the election in the Legislature. The application must state specific grounds for objecting to the outcome.
The contest is heard first by a panel of 11 randomly selected lawmakers — eight from the House of Representatives and three from the Senate — who sit like a board of inquest, hearing testimony and gathering evidence about the reason for the contest. Then the panel recommends to the whole Legislature whether to order a new election or declare one candidate or the other the winner. Finally, the House and the Senate each decide by majority vote whether to accept the panel’s recommendation.
Which party controls the process?
The state official in charge of elections, the secretary of state, is a Democrat, Alison Lundergan Grimes. Her office is overseeing the recanvass. She did not run for re-election, and will be succeeded in January by Michael G. Adams, a Republican elected on Tuesday.
The General Assembly, which would decide a contest, is safely in Republican control, with majorities of 59 to 39 in the House and 39 to 9 in the Senate.
Will Mr. Bevin formally contest the election?
It was not clear whether Mr. Bevin would pursue his challenge that far. At a news conference on Wednesday, he seemed at times to be laying the groundwork, saying that there were “a number of significant irregularities” in the election (though he gave no specifics) and observing that “there’s more than a little bit of history of voter fraud in our state.”
But in discussing the recanvass, he said, “I’m confident that in the end the right results will be delivered, and I will be entirely comfortable with whichever way they go if I’m confident the process has been served.”
There is a 120-year-old precedent in Kentucky — but an ill-omened one — for the apparent loser to successfully contest a close race for governor. Passions over the effort to overturn the result of the 1899 election ran so high that armed partisans poured into the state capital, and the ultimate winner was shot on the street. He died of the wound three days after being sworn in.
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