Election Fraud? Nope, Just Kentucky Politics As Usual
Accusations that last week’s General Election in Kentucky was possibly rigged to ensure a victory for GOP-candidate Matt Bevin over Democrat Jack Conway have slowly gained traction over the past few days. What began in earnest as an Alternet.com article from writer Randa Morris has spread to other, for lack of a better word, “alternative” news sites like Addictinginfo.com and Reverbpress.com. There’s even a Change.org petition with over 7,000 signatories that asks Secretary of State Allison Lundergan-Grimes to order a hand count of every ballot cast to ensure there was no foul play.
On its nose, Morris’ article (which relies heavily on speculative writing from popular political blogger Brad Friedman) does make a series of points that at first even had me peering leerily at my laptop.
How is that Jack Conway was so widely favored going into the polls but lost by nearly 9 percentage points?
How did other down-ticket Democrats get so many more votes than the candidate for governor?
Could Kentucky’s recent history of voter fraud convictions and ballot irregularities signify a nefarious Commonwealth-wide plot to elect a man with zero political experience hellbent on detrimentally affecting the varied interests of the very constituents that elected him?
Sorry folks, but “fraud” to you is “just another day in Kentucky politics” to me.
I’ve written before about the myriad identities the Bluegrass State contains within her broad palette of customs and cultures. From that diverse cross-section of humanity, a political schizophrenia has emerged that, evidenced by these accusations of election fraud make it clear, “Y’all aint from around here, are ya?”
Look alive, people, for i am about to lay this conspiracy theory out before ye like a shot squirrel.
Polling is an inexact science based upon the most unpredictable element in existence: people.
Human beings are weirdos. We make mistakes, change our minds, get angry over private corporations not decorating disposable coffee cups with our preferred religious symbolism, and so on and so forth. So when it comes to predicting how people are going to act in terms of electing public officials, there is in deed a substantial margin for error.
Writing for the Washington Post, Phillip Bump argues that the pollsters got the 2015 election wrong for two reasons; one, that there simply weren’t enough polls conducted over the month leading up to the election to accurately predict the public’s temperament, and two, due to the lack of conducted polls, incorrect assumptions were made about the intentions of the Kentucky electorate.
The website USelectionatlas.org contains one of the most comprehensive collections of statistical data about ‘Murican elections I’ve come across. To test Bump’s theory, let’s take into account the 2007 Kentucky General Election that predicted within 1 to 2 percentage points that Democrat Steve Beshear would wallop Republican Ernie Fletcher. When cross-referencing pre-election polling data…
With the final election results…
We see a strong numeralical corollary between what was predicted, and what the voters eventually chose. Between October 24, 2007 and the day before the election, November 4, 2007, there were 5 different polls conducted. That’s 5 polls conducted in 12 days. According to Bump’s article, pollsters only conducted 5 polls over the course of four weeks (between October 1, and October 28) in the 2015 election. In a month’s time, any number of catalytic events can occur that will effect why voters turn out and for whom. National events, growing political trends, scandals, etc. Due to the infrequent surveys, pollsters assumed that undecided voters would either overwhelmingly vote democrat or not at all, a prediction they got dead wrong.
Kentucky has a penchant for electing candidates from both parties by wide margins.
Friedman’s article sites Bev Harris of Blackboxvoting.com, a non-partisan website devoted to election transparency stating that the potential for fraud in Kentucky’s election exists in part due to, “…Discrepancies in the down ballot races. More votes in those races and not at the top…that just doesn’t happen.” To clarify, Harris is referencing the disparities in vote counts that exists between Conway (426,620 total votes) who lost and fellow Democrats Allison Lundergan-Grimes (493,204 total votes) and Andy Beshear (479,567 total votes) who both won their respective races.
Sorry folks, but in Kentucky it does happen, all of the goddamned time.
The 2003 Kentucky General Election saw victory for Republican Ernie Fletcher (598,284 total votes) over Democratic opponent Ben Chandler (487,159 total votes). Yet, if you look at other down-ticket races, you’ll see several other instances whereby candidates from both parties garnered substantially disproportionate amounts of the electorate than those running for governor by wide margins.
Looking at the results of the 2007 General Election reveals substantial discrepancies between aggregate votes cast, margins of victory, and the party affiliations of winners and losers. Incumbent Ernie Fletcher lost to democratic challenger Steve Beshear by a margin of approximately 184,000 votes. That same election, Democrat Jack Conway defeated Republican Stan “Not the Creator of Spider-Man” Lee for the office of Attorney General by over 200,000 votes. Democrat Crit Luallen defeated Republican Linda Greenwell for State Auditor by 183,000 votes.
And yet, Republican Trey Grayson was elected to the office of Secretary of State over Democrat Bruce Hendrickson by 142,000 votes. An even more glaring ass-whipping came in the form of Republican Richie Farmer being elected Secretary of Agriculture over his democratic opponent David Lynn Williams by nearly 300,000 votes. To put that in perspective, Farmer received 644,036 total votes, earning 208,263 more votes than fellow Republican and incumbent governor Ernie Fletcher.
Again, if you look at the results of the 2011 Kentucky General Election, you’ll see repeated instances of down-ticket candidates earning tens of thousands more votes than members of their own party running in the gubernatorial race. Republican challenger David Williams earned a total of 294, 034 votes running for governor against incumbent Democrat Steve Beshear. And yet, Republican Bill Johnson, who ran unsuccessfully for Secretary of State, garnered a total of 321, 065 votes. The Republican candidate for Attorney General, Todd Poole, earned 367,661 total votes.
Perhaps a longer observation of Kentucky General Elections would yield results more in line with the conspiratorial narrative; but as for the last 4 election cycles, huge disparities between aggregate vote counts isn’t a sign of foul play…
…It’s the norm.
Successfully perpetrating election fraud on a state-wide level is pretty much impossible.
Davis’ Alternet piece argues that a case of election fraud from Clay County, Kentucky provides a rational basis for being skeptical of an authentic Bevin victory. In 2011, a group of eight people were convicted in a vote buying scheme that involved election officials, a school superintendent, and even a circuit court judge. While this individual instance of corruption is appalling, it hardly serves as a template for justifying the probability of a massive conspiracy. The Clay County officials were both Republicans and Democrats whose crimes were orchestrated with the intent of retaining power and making money. Partisan ideology wasn’t the primary motivator, it was getting paid.
Additionally, some of those convicted received sentences of up to 20 years in prison. Think about it. In one county, a handful of people were still eventually caught for election fraud that earned some of them decades in prison. Even though the conviction came several years after the crimes were committed, somebody somewhere alerted officials, or blabbed to the wrong person, or any other scenario whereby people get caught when breaking the law.
Kentucky has 120 counties, so even if the GOP were to rig the ballots in half of those, it would still require hundreds of people wholly and fearlessly committed to Matt Bevin so much that they would risk imprisonment in a federal penitentiary if caught, just to see him elected.
So, what happened?
First and foremost:
Despite there being far more registered Democrats than Republicans in Kentucky, the Bluegrass is overwhelmingly socially conservative. While the peoples of Louisville and Lexington have long established histories of electing Democrats and enacting progressive legislation, the majority of the state stands in diametric opposition on those self-same issues.
Jack Conway is a Catholic, liberal democrat from Louisville that was repeatedly in the media for aiding and abetting the domestic policies of the Obama administration. He has a flat, midwestern accent unlike other state Democrats that are southern in their demeanor. He ran an abysmal campaign for the US Senate in 2010 in which his most embarrassingly memorable moment was a toss up between getting scolded like an insipid child during a debate with opponent Rand Paul or running the laughingly bad “Aqua Buddha” campaign ads.
As writer Jon Green points out in a piece for Americablog.com, Allison Lundergren Grimes and Andy Beshear, the only two Democrats who won their respective races (out of that 6 statewide elections) come from family’s with long established political ties and networks throughout the Commonwealth:
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.
In a state that’s increasingly conservative and at a time when political outsiders are fairing better in the polls than establishment candidates, voters are going to go with the guy that best reflects their ideals, regardless of whether or not they’re campaigning to serve their interests. Unfortunately, in Kentucky, it’s this guy: