Is Something Rotten in the State of Kentucky?

While the 2015 cycle was definitely an off year election for the majority of American voters, with few high profile offices up for grabs (in Pennsylvania, for example, the only statewide contests were judicial.), voters in Kentucky (well, at least 30 percent of them) were tasked with choosing the successor to their popular outgoing (term limits) Democratic governor.  In a landslide, Kentucky voters chose Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin as their new Governor.

And now, as soon as I type my next sentence, is when the comments calling me a “conspiracy theorist” start rolling in.

Or did they?  (You can comment below, or reach me at if you feel the need to insult me in private.)

The issue here is the voting systems we use in the United States.  Most of Kentucky, apparently, now uses hand marked paper ballots to vote, which is immensely preferable to touch screen systems.  The votes are then counted by running them through an optical scan machine.  Everything is cool so far.  The problem is that these machines are known to sometimes fail, recording votes incorrectly and declaring the losing candidate as the winning candidate.  This really shouldn’t be that big of an issue though, as the actual ballots exist.  Scan the ballots on election night, and then undertake a hand count of the ballots to verify the results.  Or if you are dead set against doing that in every race, then fine; only order the hand count if it is requested by one of the candidates.  I don’t care if hand counting the ballots is a pain in the ass, the integrity of our elections should be important enough to deal with it.  In Kentucky however, if a recount is ordered the paper ballots will just be re-ran through the machine, opening them up to the same mistake again.  These machines they use to tabulate the ballots can be tampered with, and as much as we’d like to believe all our elections officials are honest, we’d be naive to act that way.  Before this years election an Arizona official was caught on video breaking the tamper-proof seal on the computer that tabulated the results and can be seen doing something to the software.  This was mere hours after the logic and accuracy test was preformed on the machine in the presence of representatives from the Democratic and Republican party.  Thanks to a watchdog, this violation was noticed and the test redone the next day, but who knows what that person was actually doing and what effect it would have had on the election results.

Republican politicians keep pushing voter id laws, but other than their distressing habit of not showing up on election day, the voters are the least of our democracy’s worries.  Anyone who gives a shit about politics, no matter the party, should be demanding open, verifiable elections.  We shouldn’t be concerned with having the most high tech elections, we should have the most honest and fair elections.  Electronic voter rolls that replace old fashioned paper voter roll books may sound like a great idea, until they crash on election day, causing waits of more than an hour.  Touch screen voting booths look cool, until you see one switch your vote.  With a hand marked paper ballot, the votes are there, available to be recounted, proof to all of the election results.  With a touch screen system, you just have to trust the results it tells you.

The polling in Kentucky all showed a win for Democratic candidate Jack Conway.  The only poll that disagreed was a poll from a Republican outfit that showed the race a tie.  Conway lost by around 9 points.

The down ballot Democratic candidates not only got more votes than Conway did at the top of the ticket, they also mostly won their races.

Could all the polls have been wrong?  Sure.  Could the low turnout (30%) have hurt Conway?  That one is reaching a bit, since it didn’t seem to hurt the down ballot Democrats, and the previous Governor’s race, resulting in a Democratic victory, saw similar turnout numbers.  Could a significant number of those who voted for down ballot Democrats have decided to vote for a Tea Party candidate who pledged to strip 450,000 people of their health care?  I don’t know, I’m not a Kentucky Democrat.

I am not saying that Matt Bevin cheated.  I am not saying that there’s a conspiracy.  I’m not even saying that Matt Bevin lost.  He very possibly could have won.  Polls aren’t perfect.

What I am saying is that, all things considered, this race looks off and deserves to be looked into.  Why?  Because we need to have confidence in our election results.  Even in races that don’t affect the health care of so many people.  People need to be confident that their vote counts, and the votes are counted honestly, and that the actual winner is declared the winner.  Perhaps Matt Bevin did win the Kentucky Governor’s race.

Is it really so wrong to make sure the results are correct, especially when the results are so unexpected?

I urge everyone interested in fair, open and honest elections to look into this story.  Brad Friedman devotes most of an episode of The Brad Cast to it here, and his guest on the show, Karoli Kuns writes about it here at Crooks and Liars.

This is one of those that just doesn’t look right.  Election errors have hurt both Republican and Democratic candidates in the past, and until we commit to holding fair, open and honest elections, these issues will continue to undermine our democratic system.


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