As Kentucky basketball heats up its season against Maryland and Duke on the road, several campaigns are gearing up for recanvasses and possible recounts. The 7th Representative District race between Tim Kline and the incumbent, John Arnold, is separated by only 5 votes of the 15,775 cast. In the 3rd Senatorial District, the vote margin is 297 out of 36,617 cast for either Whitney Westerfield or Joey Pendleton, the incumbent. Ted Edmonds, the current representative, also ran a narrow race in the 91st Representative District against Gary Herald who leads him by only 134 votes of the 12,530 cast.
It is not clear whether any of the candidates will request a recount, such a decision usually occurs after the completion of a recanvass. At least two have filed for a recanvass, with Arnold’s race having the most potential for a recount. There are a number of avenues that can lead to a recount, in Kentucky. Either a candidate or an election official can trigger the recount process. Each of these paths have different requirements. The election-official initiated recount occurs if election officials report errors in administration to the county clerk. The clerk then must file a petition with the Circuit Court, within 15 days, requesting a recount. Election officials did not report any substantial election errors in any of the three races, making it unlikely the county clerk will file such a recount petition.
Another avenue is candidate requested recounts, which for members of the General Assembly require notice, in writing, stating their grounds for requesting a recount. This letter must be received within 15 days of the canvas by the county election board. Both parties to the recount then may take depositions for presentation to the General Assembly board that hears evidence on the matter. Upon reviewing the candidate’s evidence, the assembly determines if a recount is permitted. Although the recount approval process is relatively simple for candidates, many of them hesitate before requesting one, especially if the likelihood of success is uncertain. The reason for this caution is that statute requires the unsuccessful party to bear the cost of the proceeding. Also, before holding the actual recount candidates must post bonds to cover the recount costs. This rule ensures that counties’ budgets are not unduly burdened by recounts. These costs result in few recounts, but common instances of recanvassing.
A recanvass requires a retabulation of votes from individual voting machines. This process ensures that the machines’ votes were not incorrectly added together. This process does not involve viewing any of the paper ballots or determining if proper votes were cast. The majority of the state uses direct-recording electronic machines without a voter verified paper audit trail, which lend themselves to recanvasses. These types of machines make recounts virtually impossible, because they do not provide for examinations of individual votes. Therefore, during a recount, the only votes available for viewing are the paper ballots, only used in a small minority of counties. Due to these machine limitations, recanvasses are often as useful to candidates, in tight races, as are recounts.
The likelihood of success for trailing candidates using the recanvasses process are generally slim, but are possible if machine totals were improperly tabulated. Even knowing that the chance of success is slim, trailing candidates, in the past, have expressed a duty to their supporters to file for a recanvass. These occur most often when the margin between candidates are near 1 percent. The candidates listed above fall near that 1 percent margin. If history is any indication, recanvasses are likely for all 3 candidates, but 1 or fewer will ultimately move forward with a recount.