Last week, Kentucky witnessed its second statewide recanvass of an election in the past two years. Bernie Sanders asked the state to review the totals in the Democratic primary, which Hillary Clinton won by 1,911 votes. Just as in the Republican gubernatorial primary of 2015, the recanvass yielded no change to the vote totals, confirming Clinton won as announced on Election Night. The state and counties spent money conducting a recanvass that had absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election. It is time to do away with this process. Kentucky law contains three possible procedures to contest the results of a close election. The first is a recanvass, in which the counties “recheck and recanvass” the vote totals from the machines, along with any absentee ballots. During a recanvass, counties do not recount individual votes; they instead verify, or retabulate, the count from the machines – in essence, it is like pushing the button again to re-tally the totals. The counties themselves pay for this process, meaning that any candidate who is down by a close margin has virtually nothing to lose by requesting this procedure.
The second process is a recount, which a state judge oversees. Unlike in other states, there is no automatic recount in Kentucky if the margin is close. A losing candidate must put up a bond to cover the cost of the recount. The stakes are a little higher since the candidate, in effect, pays for the recount.
Finally, a losing candidate can file an “election contest,” or a lawsuit that claims there were sufficient problems in the vote casting or counting process to question who actually won. Again, the candidate must pay the costs of the litigation.
In the past several years, recanvassing has not yielded any change to the vote totals. The recanvass in the Democratic primary this year confirmed that Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders by 1,911 votes, with no changes as compared to the counties’ certified results. There was also a recanvass for the Republican primary in the 33rd Senatorial District, which also produced no change in the 38-vote margin of victory.