A growing number of Republican lawmakers are urging Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a fellow Republican, to either provide evidence of the voting “irregularities” he has alleged or concede Tuesday’s election to Gov.-elect Andy Beshear, who defeated him by 5,189 votes.
“The best thing to do, the right thing to do, is for Governor Bevin to concede the election today so we can move on,” said Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, first raised the possibility of the tight election being decided by the Republican-led legislature Tuesday night when he explained the process that would occur if Bevin decided to challenge the results of the race. Bevin bolstered that speculation Wednesday by claiming that thousands of absentee ballots were counted illegally without presenting any proof to back up his claim.
Republicans in the legislature aren’t buying it.
Nemes said he has not seen much support for an election challenge among his Republican colleagues in the House, largely because the governor has not backed up his claims. None of the lawmakers the Herald-Leader spoke to Thursday said they had seen evidence to support Bevin’s claims.
Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, is a former state police officer who said he has heard rumors of election problems but no hard evidence.
“The last thing anyone wants to do is overturn a constitutional election,” Blanton said. “We want the will of the people to be done.”
House Republicans have had a rocky relationship with Bevin since they gained control of the chamber in 2016. Often, it was the GOP-led House that blocked Bevin’s policy priorities, such as a funding mechanism for charter schools and more aggressive reforms to the pension system.
In a statement, House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said the House will play no role in the election unless Bevin files a complaint. So far, Bevin has only asked for a recanvass, which requires county officials to check the results from every voting machine and recount absentee ballots.
“If he chooses to file a formal election contest, the House Majority Caucus will handle the matter in a legal, ethical, and appropriate manner that fulfills the requirements set forth by the Kentucky Constitution, statute and rules of the House,” Osborne said.
Late Thursday, Stivers attempted to clarify his comments on election night, saying he was just talking about the process that would take place if Bevin were to contest the election.
“It is the governor’s prerogative to request recanvassing or file an application to contest the election, both of which will have a very high bar to succeed,” Stivers said. “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.”
Should Bevin contest the election, the legislature would form a randomly selected committee of eight representatives and three senators. The committee would look at any evidence of irregularities and make a report, which would be presented to a joint session of the legislature for a vote.
Although Republican lawmakers were skeptical of an election contest, many said they were fine with Bevin’s decision to request a recanvass.
“There’s nothing wrong with checking the math,” said state Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger. “Unless there is a mountain of clear, unambiguous evidence, then he should let it go.”
It is common for candidates to request a recanvass in close races — the governor’s election was decided by 0.36 percentage points — but they rarely result in major changes.
“I’ve never seen a recanvass move more than 100 votes, so it’s really doubtful that it will move,” said Rep. Jerry Miller, R-Louisville.
The loser in a governor’s race cannot request a recount — state law provides a process for recounts in all elections except those for governor, lieutenant governor and the General Assembly. That means the only way a recount could happen is if Bevin files an election contest and the legislature orders a recount as part of the resulting investigation.
To file an election contest, Bevin would need proof of fraud. So far, he has provided none.
“The proof isn’t that people were turned away, the proof is that you have to show fraud or irregularities,” Nemes said. “You can’t just go on a fishing expedition at this point, there hasn’t even been evidence of specific fraud.”
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said it was “premature” for people to be talking about a potential election contest. He is “keeping his powder dry.”
“I believe members of the General Assembly should refrain from commenting because if there is one, we would be jurors,” Thayer said.