Kentucky’s governor race is raising eyebrows on the right, as reports of gas leaks and improbable election totals have triggered flashbacks to the 2020 election.
On Tuesday, reports of a gas leak at a polling place that extended vote-counting hours had many armchair observers wondering if this was a repeat of the infamous State Farm Arena incident in 2020, when a water leak was reported in the early hours of Election Day.
But the Democratic faithful were quick to fire back that there was no basis to believe that the gas leak had anything to do with the Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear’s declared victory in the deep red state.
Officials are refuting online claims that a gas leak at one polling place in Kentucky’s largest county was election rigging that helped Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear win reelection.
The claims amassed thousands of shares on social media Tuesday after reports of a gas leak at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville caused polls there to close for about 30 minutes while Louisville Gas & Electric investigated the issue. The delay prompted a judge to extend voting at the church until 6:30 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. EST.
Social media users questioned whether the gas leak was real and insinuated that extended voting hours in a Democratic county gave Beshear the votes he needed to win.
The delay was prompted by a legitimate report of gas emitting from a stove in the church, said Chris Whelan, a spokesperson for Louisville Gas & Electric. Gas was detected, but not at hazardous levels, she said. The stove was turned off and it dissipated.
Let’s take it for granted that HuffPo’s vehement protestations against election shenanigans are apt. A voting results anomaly in the state race is much more provocative.
The issue was raised by X pundit “amuse” in a thread posted below.
ELECTION: There are lots of pundits explaining why the GOP didn't win the Kentucky governorship but none of them make much sense to me. How did the GOP AG receive 125K more votes than the GOP Gov candidate? Why did 57K fewer people vote for governor than AG? pic.twitter.com/3xxIVgQ9Xv
— @amuse (@amuse) November 8, 2023
“There are lots of pundits explaining why the GOP didn’t win the Kentucky governorship but none of them make much sense to me. How did the GOP AG receive 125K more votes than the GOP Gov candidate? Why did 57K fewer people vote for governor than AG?”
The Associated Press as of Wednesday morning reports that Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear has 693,370 votes.
However, Republican attorney general candidate Russell Coleman trounced Democrat Pamela Stevenson. His final vote total? 752,303 votes.
That would be 57,000 votes more than Andy Beshear attained.
So, did all of those voters who turned out for Russell Coleman turn up their noses when it came to Daniel Cameron?
It’s possible, but seems implausible.
The 2023 election dynamics in Kentucky should be teased apart a bit to assess just how implausible.
Abortion as an issue looms large. The state had passed a highly restrictive abortion law in 2022 that mobilized Democratic voters. Daniel Cameron, a Trump-backed candidate, ran as an unapologetic evangelical who had condemned abortion without moral ambiguity (although he qualified his position slightly late into his campaign).
Russell Coleman is more of an establishment Republican by background. He served as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky. He was also a senior advisor and legal counsel to Sen. Mitch McConnell and is a former FBI special agent.
That’s fascinating, particularly given the extensive complaints that election integrity advocates on the left have made about Kentucky politics and McConnell’s cozying up to voting machine companies.
In 2019, as reported by Newsweek, McConnell received a “slew of donations” from four of the top voting machine lobbyists in the country.
McConnell would go on to squash three election security bills.
“It’s not surprising to me that Mitch McConnell is receiving these campaign contributions,” the Brennan Center for Justice’s Lawrence Norden told Sludge at the time. “He seems single-handedly to be standing in the way of anything passing in Congress around election security, and that includes things that the vendors might want, like money for the states to replace antiquated equipment.”
One of the bills, the Securing America’s Federal Elections or SAFE Act, would have authorized more funding for the Election Assistance Commission and includes language that would ban voting machines from being connected to the internet and being produced in foreign countries.
The Wall Street Journal, in an article that provided some nuance for the positives and negatives of the legislation, laid out what the SAFE Act would have done.
“The core of the Safe Act is a pile of federal money, $600 million in the first year, to help states upgrade their voting systems. The bill would standardize and tighten election rules. All votes for federal office would have to be cast via paper ballots. A portion of this audit trail would then need to be manually checked for every election. Voting machines—presumably devices that assist in marking paper ballots—could not be manufactured outside the U.S. or connected to the internet.”
On its face, these seem like sensible reforms to the general electorate.
Interestingly, Newsweek remarked that “McConnell’s actions seemed even more out of balance with his party, as the Senate Intelligence Committee—led by Republicans—released a report later on Thursday claiming Russians have targeted voting systems in all 50 states in 2016.”
Whether the American people should worry more about the Russians or partisan domestic activists operating as bad actors is a matter of debate.
On Tuesday, we witnessed Ballot Marking Device (BMD) issues in Northampton County in the swing state of Pennsylvania, where machines were shut down due to reports of voting errors, including “votes getting flipped.” The county turned then to paper ballots.
In Harris County, there were also reports of issues with the ‘hybrid’ voting machines.
Kentucky’s active voting machines, according to the State Board of Elections, are as follows: ES&S DS200 Scanner; ES&S ExpressVote BMD Terminal; Hart Intercivic Escan; Hart Intercivic Eslate; Hart Intercivic Verity Scan; Hart Intercivic Verity Touchwriter; and Hart Intercivic Verity Duo. A brief description follows below:
- The ES&S DS200 is “a poll place ballot scanner and vote tabulator that combines the flexibility and efficiency of digital-imaging technology to support paper-based voting.”
- The ES&S ExpressVote BMD Terminal is a “paper-based ExpressVote Universal Voting System uses touch-screen technology that produces a paper record for tabulation.”
- The Hart Intercivic Escan is a “ballot scanning device. It is used to support polling locations with voters who hand-mark paper ballots (typically distributed at the polling place check-in station) and then hand-feed the paper ballots into the scanner, in order to cast the ballot.”
- The Hart Intercivic Eslate is “a direct recording electronic voting device. The eSlate is typically used in polling places that have implemented a fully electronic voting experience as an alternative to hand marked paper ballots.”
- The Hart Intercivic Verity Scan is “a ballot scanning and tabulating device. It is used most often to support polling locations with voters who hand-mark paper ballots.”
- The Hart InterCivic Verity Touch Writer is “a ballot marking device that combines touchscreen voting with an attached commercial off-the-shelf COTS) printer.”
- The Hart InterCivic’s Verity Duo is “a ballot marking device that combines touchscreen voting with an integrated thermal printer and is typically used in jurisdictions fielding ballot marking devices (BMDs) for all voters.”
According to the non-profit organization Common Cause, “the most effective solutions to improve the integrity of our elections are often simple and commonsense. They include”:
- Retire old and outdated voting machines, upgrade the technology we use, and move towards employing paper ballots in every state.
- Require risk-limiting, post-election audits of ballots to confirm that reported election results are accurate.
- Ensure paper back-ups of our voter registration databases and electronic voter rolls.
- Eliminate the use of online voting. Ballots cast by email or through an internet portal are vulnerable to hacking.
So, are there reasons to suspect any malfeasance in the Kentucky election? That is up for debate.
The Daily Kos did a deep dive on Kentucky election results in 2021 and found a number of anomalies. The report was based in part on reporting by Alison Greene at the DC Report.
“I can also confirm the anomalous nature of the results as Ms. Greene noted: in a county with six Dem voters to every one Repub voter, we would not expect to see Trump get at least three times as many votes as Biden, nor would we expect McConnell to receive twice as many votes as McGrath. Indeed, in this heavily Dem-majority county, the only Dem candidate to poll better than his/her Repub rival was the candidate for SC justice.”
In summary, there were unexpectedly high numbers of Republican voters turning out to vote in Democratic-heavy counties in 2020. This does not necessarily mean anything askance with the voting machines, in particular, because the turnout anomalies were recorded on both ES&S and Hart Intercivic machines.
But given the background of the attorney general candidate as well as the voting machine lobbyist donations to Senator Mitch McConnell, the 2023 off-year election results are intriguing and certainly a basis for further investigation.