No, Republicans didn’t steal Kentucky

One of the biggest surprises of Tuesday’s elections was Tea Party Republican Matt Bevin’s victory over Jack Conway, the state’s Attorney General. Conway had enjoyed a modest but consistent lead heading into the final stretch of the campaign — even the internal polls Bevin’s campaign released showed Conway winning the race — but Bevin came out on top by about nine points.

Going into Election Day, there wasn’t even a good causal story suggesting that Bevin had momentum; by all accounts, he had run a lazy campaign, showing up late to fundraisers and not doing much by way of turning out his base. People watching the race from outside of the state even assumed that Bevin’s promise to undo both of current Governor Steve Beshear’s actions to implement Obamacare — setting up a popular state-run health insurance exchange and expanding Medicaid — would hurt him with Kentucky voters. After Bevin’s win, most of those outside observers sobered up and remembered that, as politics is increasingly national, all you have to do in a conservative state like Kentucky is say “Obama” and you’re all but guaranteed at least 50% of the vote.

However, it’s still tough to reconcile a large electoral loss with a large pre-election lead. In this case, it’s even tougher to reconcile given that the phantom Republican momentum in Kentucky seems to have been confined to Bevin. While he dramatically overperformed on Election Day, that overperformace didn’t extend down the ballot. Democrats Andy Beshear and Alison Lundergan-Grimes won election for Attorney General and re-election for Secretary of State, respectively, and both of them received more votes than Conway did at the top of the ticket. Given that Lundergan-Grimes ran a highly-nationalized race against Mitch McConnell for Senate last year, one would think that any [Kentucky Democrat]/Obama claims would hit her as hard as they hit Conway, right?

Something doesn’t add up.

As Karoli Kuns at Crooks and Liars and Brad Friedman at BradBlog outline, there’s at least some reason to believe that the results in Kentucky warrant a second look. Here’s Karoli, from yesterday:

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin, via Wikimedia Commons

Kentucky Governor-elect Matt Bevin, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve heard that Conway was linked up with Obama and so the kneejerk reaction was to vote for his opponent. Okay, but Steve Beshear embraced Obama and the Affordable Care Act and didn’t have a problem getting elected.

Name recognition? Alison Grimes and Andy Beshear are from long-time Kentucky political families. But Conway was the Attorney General. It’s not like he was a disappearing snowflake there.

At first, I thought maybe it was the Kim Davis debacle, given that Conway played a role in the whole hoopla around that. But he won Davis’ county by three percentage points, so it’s not that either.

In order to believe these results as they are right now, we have to believe Democrats split the ticket and voted for Dems everywhere but the Governor’s race. I’m not sure I buy that.

Finally, I’m told the RNC put through a huge ad buy in the final week of the campaign. That’s all fine and well, but ads don’t move that many people one way or the other, as we’ve seen with other failed investments in ads.

You know what that leaves for me? Voting machines.

Especially since voting machines have proven to be particularly problematic in Kentucky. From the Huffington Post in 2009:

  • Clay County Clerk, Freddy Thompson, 45, allegedly provided money to election officers to be distributed by the officers to buy votes and he also instructed officers how to change votes at the voting machine. …
  • Election officer William E. Stivers, 56, allegedly marked votes or issued tickets to voters who had sold their votes and changed votes at the voting machine. …
  • Paul E. Bishop, 60, allegedly marked voters or issued tickets to voters who sold their votes and he also hosted alleged meetings at his home where money was pooled together by candidates and distributed to election officers, including himself. He was also accused of instructing the officers how to change votes at the voting machine.

Finally, as Karoli notes, Kentucky isn’t exactly using the most secure voting machines:

According to what I’ve been able to find, Kentucky is still using a lot of the ES&S machines known to have problems or be easily changed. Other counties use the Hart InterCivic systems. Hart is the company that Mitt Romney had ties to, as you may recall.

Entire white papers have been written on the vulnerabilities in the Hart systems.

It’s important to note that both Karoli and Friedman stop short of declaring the election fraudulent. They simply lay out their cases for why the results deserve a second look. But despite the fact that the circumstances of this election and Kentucky’s checkered past when it comes to election integrity are fishy, there are still a few problems with the theory that the election was stolen: Most importantly, Kentucky’s Secretary of State — as in, the person who oversees the administration of elections — is a Democrat, Alison Lundergan-Grimes herself. In order for there to have been a coordinated campaign of election fraud on a large enough scale to steal a statewide race, someone in the Secretary of State’s office would almost certainly have had to be in on it. A handful of county clerks can’t do that much damage on their own, and if they did, they would have done it to the other Democrats in statewide races.

What’s more, there’s a reasonable causal story that explains why Alison Lundergan-Grimes and Andy Beshear survived while Conway didn’t: they come from longstanding Kentucky political families, both of which have powerful political machines that Conway does not. (To get a sense of how far back these names go in Kentucky, Fred Beshear, current Governor Steve Beshear’s uncle, twice defeated Jerry Lundergan, Alison Lundergan-Grimes’s father, in Democratic primaries for House of Representatives seats in the 1970s.) This being the case, it isn’t really that hard to believe that a significant number of Kentucky Democrats (who outnumber Kentucky Republicans by party registration) split their ticket Bevin/Lundergan-Grimes/Beshear. Kentuckians have been voting for Grimeses and Beshears for decades.

All this is to say that there are simpler (and by the rules of Occams Razor, better) explanations for Jack Conway’s loss in Kentucky on Tuesday than “The Republicans stole it.” While the potential for election fraud is absolutely an issue that deserves more attention than it’s getting, I’m not ready to sound the alarms in this case.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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37 Responses to “No, Republicans didn’t steal Kentucky”

  1. Dudicicon says:

    I fear that the causal story for Bevin’s win may start with Conway being associated with Obama, visit Conway refusing to appeal the gay marriage, and end with Bevin supporting Kim Davis.

  2. Dudicicon says:

    Clickbait title with no evidence to support the position. Your “causal story” is a story and doesn’t become an explanation because you appended a spurious adjective. That you think it more unlikely than the other narrative is indicative of your opinion and nothing else. There may not have been fraud in the election, but this article sure doesn’t demonstrate a compelling argument.

  3. jenncoolfla says:

    When you consider the other election results and the history of election fraud in Kentucky, it is certain that this was rigged. Hope this is challenged in the courts!

  4. privatechaos says:

    I was so sad when they turned us into a mail-only state. I so enjoyed volunteering at the polls, even though the machine was in use also, for the disabled. I was struck by the fact that provisional ballots were never counted, so if you weren’t able to vote (not listed in precinct where you live for example) except for that provisional piece of paper, your vote did not in fact register. Mail-in seems better but it’s counted by a machine, and I believe firmly paper ballots should be counted by hand. Oh well, just a dreamer…

  5. privatechaos says:

    If you think Obamacare was anything but a huge gift to the insurance industry, you are sadly mistaken.

  6. privatechaos says:

    That would be cool!

  7. Bob_108 says:

    Some of the logic in this article is faulty. Particularly this

    ” someone in the (Democratic) Secretary of State’s office would almost certainly
    have had to be in on it.”

    The issue with computerized vote counting, as so remarkably few seem to
    grok, is that a single person at the vote machine company doing the
    programming can change things that no one, Sec of State certainly
    included, has any control over or would have any way of knowing about.
    It doesn’t have to be a “large” conspiracy. It doesn’t require
    “coordination”. Just one person, bribed, threatened, or with a political
    bias and no morals.

    Oy vey. How many times do we have to say this? Why is it not obvious? And why does it always favor one party?

  8. Marcus77 says:

    New elections should be held, this man life is a fraud, he burnt his own company to ge the insurance money, he is a crook all the way, Tea party go to hell with you too, bunch of ignorant idiots.

  9. Marcus77 says:

    Yes he did, he stole thr election, this will be investigated,

  10. Bill123 says:

    You seem to be programmed with the alternate universe explanations of events.

    Obama is, at worst, center left, but more like moderate left. He passed health care reform, equal rights reforms, on and on.

    The move to the right in local politics was in full swing when Clinton was elected. Southern pols were switching to the GOP in droves in the 1980s, and to a lesser degree in the 1970s. Clinton’s “failures” included killing Reagan-Bush triple-digit deficits, creating the most jobs in U.S. history, raising the high school and college graduation rates of black Americans to record highs.

    Then there is this from you: “A perfect example was the loss of Kennedy’s seat to a Republican lightweight.”

    That wins the doublespeak award. Scott Brown had the full force of Fox News and the then-powerful Tea Party Express behind his campaign. His Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, was the milquetoast lightweight. She barely campaigned, as though she was not much interested in finishing Ted Kennedy’s term.

    And unlike this Kentucky race, on election eve Brown was the predicted winner by pollsters, based on his surge in the last weeks of the race.

    In Kentucky, a 5-point lead for the Dem became a 10-point loss overnight, with no last-minute gaffs, no screwed pooch in evidence.

    I really think we will see indictments of Republicans in Kentucky. In your honest heart of hearts, the one you rarely talk to, don’t you?

  11. Bill123 says:

    There is no better explanation for the 15-point turnaround than election fraud. No one goes from 5 points down on election eve to a 10-point win in the election, when every poll has a plus-minus margin of error of less than 5 points.

    At this point we have two different election experts calling foul, and a major recount and an indictment of the governor-elect and/or his cronies is more than a possibility.

  12. Moderator3 says:

    Don’t let the screen door hit you in the butt on the way out.

  13. keller23 says:

    LOL at the butthurt progs. You guys are nothing else if not funny.

  14. Aaron Mason says:


  15. Heather_7 says:

    Bernie Sanders for the win. But you make good points about all the Repug’s this session being absolute nutters.

  16. Jimbo2K7 says:

    And you are from the state of white supremacist delusion. I am not impressed.

  17. Aaron Mason says:


    “The other night I phoned a former Republican member of Congress with whom I’d worked in the 1990s on various pieces of legislation. I consider him a friend. I wanted his take on the Republican candidates because I felt I needed a reality check. Was I becoming excessively crotchety and partisan, or are these people really as weird as they seem? We got right into it:

    Me: “So what do really you think of these candidates?”

    Him: “You want my unvarnished opinion?’

    Me: “Please. That’s why I called.”

    Him: “They’re all nuts.”

    Me: “Seriously. What do you really think of them?”

    Him: “I just told you. They’re bonkers. Bizarre. They’re like a Star Wars bar room.”

    Me: “How did it happen? How did your party manage to come up with this collection?”

    Him: “We didn’t. They came up with themselves. There’s no party any more. It’s chaos. Anybody can just decide they want to be the Republican nominee, and make a run for it. Carson? Trump? They’re in the lead, and they’re both out of their f*cking minds.”

    Me: “That’s not reassuring.”

    Him: “It’s a disaster. I’m telling you, if either of them is elected, this country is going to heII. The rest of them aren’t much better. I mean, Carly Fiorina? Really? Rubio? Please. Ted Cruz? Oh my god. And the people we thought had it sewn up, who are halfway sane — Bush and Christie — they’re sounding almost as batty as the rest.”

    Me: “Who’s to blame for this mess?”

    Him: “Roger Ailes, David and Charles Koch, Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh. I could go on. They’ve poisoned the American mind and destroyed the Republican Party.

    Me: “Nice talking with you.”

    Him: “Sleep well.”

    I can’t wait for Hillary to be POTUS :)

  18. IdahoGuy says:

    Hey grampa & karmaLite…..
    You both are delusional.

  19. 2karmanot says:

    “——when their party, as we know it, it gone” It’s already happened.

  20. 2karmanot says:

    You point the way to some salient trends Jon—-the demise of the Democratic Party in the nation. Looking at the map of Red and Blue, the Republicans have taken over the nation at the local level. Why is that? The DNC is largely responsible. The Party began to abandon it’s base during the neo-liberal shape shifting of Bill Clinton. NAFTA, DOMA, DADT are only the most glaring of his disastrous presidency, yet he remains one of the most popular and charismatic politicos around. His ‘big lie’ Presidency would, I imagine, even impress Goebbels. Obama? Even worse. Obama ran on Hope and Change, which in spite of an oratory glibness equal to that of Daniel Webster, was a lie from beginning to end. The Demos still haven’t figured it out and with Obot Debby Wassermann-Shultz running the show nothing has changed. A perfect example was the loss of Kennedy’s seat to a Republican lightweight. Obama’s shift to the center right has alienated the Democratic base, who feel betrayed and abandoned. This is precisely why Bernie Sanders has soared to new heights for an outsider. The politics of establishment politicos however have ignored Sanders at every turn, because they know with certainty that the election is already rigged in Clinton’s favor, stimulated of course with enough Kabuki to make it entertaining.

  21. nicho says:

    Never invoke Occam’s Razor unless you know what it is. Most people who appeal to it don’t understand it.

  22. Don Chandler says:

    One difference between dems and repubs is that repubs are well organized. They don’t have to deal with this counter-intuitive “not voting cabal psychology”. In fact, their more effective cabal is actually the tea party. They will vote first for a tea party candidate and then a republican candidate. Our “Cabal” doesn’t have a “coffee party” or a coffee candidate. They would make a lot more sense if they did.

  23. Jon Green says:

    Not only did I read the Bradblog post, I linked to it! And it isn’t wrong! But I’m not quite as ready to call shenanigans as he and others are given alternative, simpler explanations.

  24. Bcre8ve says:

    That’s sad. I’m now in a mail-in only state, and the “turnout” was less than 25%. Even less in my county.

    If only everyone that complained about the destruction the GOP visits on this country actually went out and voted (or even bothered to stick the damn envelope in the mail) the world would be a much better place.

    It couldn’t be worse, could it?

  25. Bcre8ve says:

    Exactly. This wouldn’t need to be some sort of high-level conspiracy. It only takes one memory card to infect the whole system and start turning votes to a single, favored candidates. This has been shown with the very ES&S systems used in many parts of Kentucky.

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  27. sophie says:

    I completely agree with everything you wrote. Jon Green needs to read Brad Friedman’s article on Bradblog and also check out Bev Harris of Black Box She says there are too many anomalies that cannot just be explained away-the voting machines being a huge problem. Conway should be protesting the results, but of course no one will do a damn thing about it.

  28. Bill_Perdue says:

    What the Republicans did was to appeal to the legacy of the bigot Bill Clinton’s DOMA.

  29. Doug105 says:

    Well mostly good people, I can think of a couple of exceptions right off the top of my head.

  30. grandpamike1 says:

    I would certainly say that the lack of Democratic voters coming out to vote was a deciding factor. When will they ever learn, maybe when their party, as we know it, it gone

  31. BeccaM says:

    I take that with a grain of salt, FLL, because Beshear won last time with an even lower turnout, just 28%.

    However, I agree with you: Not voting and urging other people not to vote is counterproductive and stupid.

  32. BeccaM says:

    First we learn just how incredibly vulnerable Kentucky’s voting machines are — up to and including what is clearly common knowledge about how to “adjust” the results — then we’re told it’s Occam’s Razor that Conway lost contrary to the polling estimates, even though the other down-ticket races didn’t have similar upsets as one might expect if the Tea Baggers and GOPers were turning out in significantly higher numbers than the opposition.

    We’re not talking about the polls being wrong within the margin of error or even a 5-6% swing. Conway went from 5% ahead in the latest polls to losing by 9%. That just doesn’t make sense.

    I call shenanigans.

    The Secretary of State would not have had to been in on it, just the individual county precinct leaders…and gee, guess who controls the overwhelming majority of rural Kentucky counties? The Republicans.

  33. FLL says:

    The only alarm that I’m willing to sound, in this case, is that progressives didn’t vote. The Kentucky Board of Elections reports that turnout for the Kentucky general election was only 30.68 percent. The “Don’t Vote” cabal here at Americablog will be pleased with today’s voter turnout in Kentucky, but not so pleased, I think, with next year’s voter turnout in the national elections.

  34. Indigo says:

    Okay, y’all, let me put it in imitation realtor talk: “Turn out, turn out, turn out.”

  35. Melba toast says:

    You’re quite right about the influence of family “dynasties” in KY politics. It’s a huge “insider” culture (I moved to KY 16 years ago and I’m still an outsider). I think the Bevin situation is a combination of that and of the same thing we saw in the last election, when the polls gave a Grimes a much bigger proportion of the vote than she actually received; I think people assumed that other voters had them covered and just didn’t show up. Since only 25% of the electorate voted and it was majority Republican, it’s not as surprising a result as I want it to be. Plus, I think more Republicans are willing to vote for Beshear and Grimes than for Conway. Kentucky Democrats are not a particularly liberal bunch (Kim Davis is a good example – I know she just switched parties but there are tons of older people who haven’t officially hopped over) and they’re okay with voting for Democrats as long as they’re not in national elections.

  36. Quilla says:

    Here. I’ll say it: The Election was Fraudulent.

    Best take it to the Supreme Court to decide.

    Oh, wait…

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