FRANKFORT, KY – Republican Gov. Matt Bevin could face a legacy-defining decision when the vote totals from the Kentucky governor’s race are double-checked Thursday — concede to Democrat Andy Beshear or contest last week’s election in a historic move that could put the outcome in the hands of state lawmakers.
Bevin faces a growing chorus of Bluegrass State Republicans urging him to accept the results of the recanvass unless he can point to evidence of substantial voter fraud.
Even Bevin acknowledges that the recanvass, which he requested, is highly unlikely to change the outcome.
“There might be some adjustment, but it usually may be a number moves up and a number moves down,” he told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. “But it’s not likely to be a material change.”
Asked if he’ll concede if the vote totals stay about the same, Bevin replied: “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
He was feistier during a weekend appearance in California before a group of young conservatives, defending his refusal to concede while repeating his claim that he wants to ensure the integrity of the election.
“I would rather lose a clean election than to win a dirty election, and I’ll be darned if I want to lose a dirty election,” he said at the Young America’s Foundation event. “So to that end, let’s just make sure it’s legit. And that’s what we’re in the process of doing. And if it is, then great, pass that baton.”
The day after the hard-fought election, Bevin hinted without offering evidence that there had been “irregularities” in the voting. A conservative political activist put out robocalls urging Kentuckians to report suspicious activity or voter fraud.
Bevin told the AP on Wednesday that he knows “for a fact” that ballots were counted illegally, making references to absentee ballots without offering explicit examples of wrongdoing.
The election results showed the governor — an ally of President Donald Trump, who campaigned for Bevin the night before the election — trailing Beshear by more than 5,000 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast. Beshear's lead is less than 0.4 percentage points.
Beshear, the state attorney general and the son of a two-term Kentucky governor, declared victory and turned his attention toward the Dec. 10 inauguration.
Kentucky’s secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes, has forwarded all election-related concerns to her Election Integrity Task Force, which includes representation from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and federal prosecutors, her spokeswoman said.
“As the commonwealth heads into tomorrow’s recanvass, no member of the task force has raised any possible concern to the secretary,” Grimes’ spokeswoman, Lillie Ruschell, said in a press release.
The AP has not declared a winner, in keeping with its policy not to call races close enough to go to a recount. Although Kentucky's recount law doesn't apply to a governor's election, the AP is applying that same standard here.
The Kentucky contest was watched closely for early signs of how the impeachment furor in Washington might affect Trump and other Republicans. Bevin railed against the inquiry and illegal immigration, while Beshear kept his focus on state issues such as education, health care and pensions.
Across Kentucky, county boards of election will convene Thursday to check their voting machines and absentee ballots to verify the vote count. This will not be a recount, meaning officials will not check individual ballots.
Bevin would have 30 days to contest the outcome once it is certified by the state Board of Elections, which is scheduled to meet Nov. 21. Contesting an election could put the outcome in the hands of the GOP-led legislature.
The last time Kentucky lawmakers decided a governor’s race was the 1899 election, in a dispute marked by the assassination of the Democrat who was declared the winner.
“I fully expect the recanvass will confirm the results,” longtime Kentucky political commentator Al Cross said. “And at that point, the governor will have to decide whether he wants to put the legislature through a painful experience and put a cloud over Andy Beshear’s inauguration or act with grace and hand over power.”
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said last week that if the recanvass doesn’t significantly alter the election count, the governor should concede.
The state’s most powerful Republican, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said this week that he is "sorry Matt came up short," adding that the recanvass is unlikely to change the results.