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Comer Requests A Recanvass in Republican Kentucky Gubernatorial Primary. What's Next?

Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, right, and his wife, T.J.

James Comer on Wednesday requested a recanvass of the votes cast the night before in the Republican primary for governor he lost by 83 votes to Louisville businessman Matt Bevin.

The recanvass is essentially a re-tabulation of all the results from each precinct. The recanvass will be conducted on May 28.

University of Kentucky election law professor Josh Douglas said the recanvass could help Comer decide if he wants to pursue a full-fledged recount.

“As long as Bevin’s lead doesn’t increase, if it stays at 83, it won’t surprise me if Comer requests the recount,” Douglas said.

In a formal recount, all counties across the state would send their election materials to a Franklin County Circuit judge to review.

Douglas said that a recount could show a swing of around 200 votes—well outside the margin of Bevin’s lead.

Recanvasses do not usually yield as many votes.

Kentucky has had two major recanvasses in the recent past: in 2010 Andy Barr requested a recanvass in his attempt to unseat Ben Chandler from his Congressional seat. Barr was down by about fewer than 700 votes and the recanvass yielded only one additional vote.

In the 2011 Republican primary for secretary of state, consultant Hilda Legg conceded to businessman Bill Johnson after picking up just six votes from a recanvass she requested.

Comer’s lawyers will be taking an especially close look at the two-thirds of Kentucky counties that use paper ballots and also scrutinizing voter eligibility. “They have lawyers on the ground on election day that were getting reports from the field. Many campaigns will have people at voting sites looking for problems,” Douglas said.

Some areas that campaigns look into are whether voters’ registration status is current, felons mistakenly being allowed to vote and voters having the correct proof of eligibility or identity.

On election night, Comer said his campaign was looking into “bizarre” results from some western Kentucky counties whose results came in late on Tuesday.

Comer officially sent the request on Wednesday afternoon to Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes to conduct a recanvass.

“Both candidates and the public are entitled to confidence in election results, and I stand ready to facilitate any proceedings necessary to provide those assurances,” said Grimes in a statement earlier on Wednesday. “My office is prepared and will continue to provide updates regarding any recanvass requests we receive and the procedures being followed.”

Beyond the recanvass, Douglas speculated that given the bruising campaign, Comer will have to weigh whether a full-fledged recount would create a deeper rift within factions of state Republicans.

“I don’t know if Comer will want to take a long-term view and for the benefit of the party and for his future political chances to not do the recount or whether he got so bruised up by the media that he feels the need to do the recount as well,” Douglas said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul and most of Kentucky’s congressional delegation have requested that all four Republican gubernatorial candidates join together at a “unity rally” on May 30.

Kentucky Republican Party Treasurer Cathy Bell said the event is still scheduled because the party has made a financial commitment for the event to take place at the Lexington Marriott.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. Email Ryland at rbarton@lpm.org.