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GOP candidate withdraws challenge for Kentucky House seat

Posted: 4:25 PM, Feb 08, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-08 16:25:43-05
Kentucky capitol

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — His political future down to a coin flip, a Kentucky Republican state House candidate on Friday abruptly withdrew his challenge of election results that initially had him losing by one vote but later put the race in a tie after a legislatively-ordered recount.

DJ Johnson's decision ensures Democrat Jim Glenn will remain in the state legislature for the next two years representing Owensboro, a city in Western Kentucky along the banks of the Ohio River. And it ends a complex and rarely used process of contesting legislative elections in Kentucky, a state that does not have automatic recounts regardless of the outcome.

Glenn defeated Johnson by one vote on Election Day. But the Republican-controlled legislature ordered a recount at Johnson's request. That recount ended in a tie after the Daviess County Board of Elections opened and counted five absentee ballots that they had previously rejected.

Friday, Johnson's lawyer argued lawmakers had to pick a winner by drawing lots, which could include flipping a coin or drawing names out of a hat. But Glenn's lawyer said he would not accept the results of a coin flip and vowed to file a lawsuit should he be removed from office.

At that point, Johnson announced he would withdraw to avoid a lengthy legal battle.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Glenn chooses not to accept what this board does, chooses not to accept the rule of law," Johnson said. "The best solution would be for me to win the coin toss and I get seated. That would be best for me. What's best for my district, what's best for people in my community, is that we end this."

Glenn shook Johnson's hand after the meeting and thanked him for his decision. But Glenn disputed Johnson's characterization that he was not accepting "the rule of law."

"I'm a grown man. I won this race," Glenn said. "I wasn't planning to go back for a coin toss. We're not in elementary school where we are shooting marbles. This is serious business."

Kentucky has no recount procedures for state legislative races. But state law does allow candidates to contest the results to the House of Representatives or the state Senate. Johnson asked the House for a recount and lawmakers appointed an Election Contest Board of six Republicans and three Democrats — all chosen by random drawing — to oversee that process.

Last month, the board's six Republicans voted to order the Daviess County Board of Elections to conduct a recount. Democrats objected but did not have enough votes to stop it.

Last week, the Daviess County Clerk's Office recounted more than 12,000 ballots by hand. When they finished, Glenn led by three votes. But after a personal appeal form Johnson and his attorney, the Daviess County Board of Elections reversed an earlier decision and gave him one of those votes back.

The board then decided to open five absentee ballots they had rejected on Election Day for various reasons. Of those five votes, Johnson received three and Glenn received one, giving each candidate 6,323 votes.

Glenn's lawyers protested, arguing Johnson and his lawyers interfered with the recount process. They asked Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear to investigate. But all of that ended Friday when Johnson withdrew his challenge.

The Kentucky House of Representatives had essentially been on hold while the election challenge was pending, not voting on any legislation. That will change Monday when lawmakers return. Glenn said he plans to spend the day Friday filing several bills.

"I'm going to move on and try to help the people of the 13th district," he said.

Johnson said he would return home and "get my life back in order" and decide what to do next. He said he did not know if he would run against Glenn again in 2020.

"I will leave it at this: I did not throw away my yard signs," he said.