OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) — At Cravens Elementary School on Election Day, someone voted for both the Democrat and the Republican candidate on a paper ballot in a Kentucky state House election.
The voting machine asked if the person wanted to discard that ballot and fill out another one. But for reasons unknown, the voter declined, casting the ballot knowing it would not be counted in House district 13 — a race Democrat Jim Glenn would win by a single vote.
But on Saturday, the Daviess County Board of Elections opened that voting machine and looked at that ballot as part of a legislatively ordered recount. The bubble by Glenn's name was completely filled in, while the bubble by Johnson's name had a stray mark. The board voted unanimously to give the ballot to Glenn, adding to his lead with several thousand more ballots left to count.
That ballot could be important as the recount continues Saturday. Kentucky does not have automatic recounts for legislative races. But in a rare move, the Republican-controlled legislature ordered a recount after the GOP candidate, DJ Johnson, asked for one.
Daviess County election officials were holed up in a cavernous warehouse on Saturday, flipping through paper ballots by hand. So far, the Democrat has gained two votes while the Republican has lost one vote. In one instance, a voter circled but did not fill in the box for a straight Democratic party ticket. That vote wasn't counted on election day, but the Daviess County Board of Elections voted to give it to Glenn.
In another instance, a voter started to fill in a box for a straight Republican party ticket, but crossed it out and did not fill in a box for House district 13. That vote was originally counted for Johnson, but the board voted Saturday to discard it.
The recount will cost about $10,200, but Johnson, the Republican candidate, has agreed to pay for it regardless of the outcome.
Election recounts are rare, and it's even rarer for a recount to change the outcome of an election. But of the at least 80 recounts nationwide following the 2018 elections, a total of 382 votes changed, according to research by Johnson's legal team. That's an average of 4.8 votes per race, more than enough to change the outcome in Kentucky's House district 13.
Of those 80 recounts, five were decided by one-vote margins, and two of those recounts resulted in ties. In Fairmont, West Virginia, officials chose the winner of a city council seat by flipping buttons in a coffee can.
The recount in Kentucky House district 13 is different than most. Local election officials declared Glenn the winner, and the Kentucky State Board of Elections certified the results. Glenn took his seat in the legislature on Jan. 8. He has an office, staff and has been assigned to committees.
But Kentucky state law allows candidates to contest elections to the full House of Representatives. The House did not convene for its regular session until Jan. 8, more than a month after the election ended. The House appointed a nine-person Election Contest Board by a random drawing of the House clerk to hear the challenge. Six Republicans and three Democrats ended up on the board. After a hearing, the six Republicans voted to authorize the recount while the three Democrats voted against it.
The recount itself won't determine who wins the seat. The Election Contest Board will use the recount to write a report. That report will go to the full House of Representatives, which has the final say over who wins the seat. But if the Republican-dominated House of Representatives votes to seat the GOP candidate, a lawyer for Glenn says they will file a lawsuit.
"He is already a seated legislator and we find flaws in this process," attorney Anna Whites said.
Johnson said he doesn't like the recount process for legislative races and has promised to introduce legislation to change it — if he wins.
"I want to know for sure. I just want to make sure that the count is accurate," Johnson said.
UPDATE: Recount in contested Kentucky state House election ends in tie.