Owensboro Democrat Jim Glenn won his election to the state House of Representatives this November by just one vote.
Local and state officials held a recanvass. His election was certified. He was sworn in twice.
“The election’s already been determined about four different times,” Glenn said. “The public voted for me. I won. Whether I won by one or 1,000.”
But an election contest from Glenn’s opponent, former Rep. DJ Johnson, sparked uncertainty Tuesday over whether Glenn will get to maintain his House seat for the rest of his term.
Johnson’s complaint, filed November 30, doesn’t go to the courts. Instead, because of a 1974 Kentucky law, his complaint will be handled by a panel of nine members of the House of Representatives.
“We really have no choice but to take this up,” said House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect.
On Tuesday, the first day of the Kentucky General Assembly’s 30-workday legislative session, the House of Representatives formed an Election Contest Board by drawing nine names out of a clear white bucket to select the members who will have the responsibility to determine whether Glenn truly won the election in Daviess County.
“The name of each member present shall be written on a separate piece of paper, every piece being as nearly similar to the other as possible,” the law reads. “Each piece shall be rolled up so that the names thereon cannot be seen nor any particular piece ascertained or selected by feeling.”
On Tuesday, the House Clerk drew the rolled up names of six Republicans and three Democrats out of the box: Rep. Tommy Turner, R-Somerset; Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green; House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook; Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton; Rep. Bart Rowland, R-Tompkinsville, Rep. Matthew Koch, R-Paris; House Majority Leader Bam Carney, R-Campbellsville; Rep. Josie Raymond, D-Louisville; and Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow.
The Election Contest Board then met for three minutes and named Petrie its chairman.
In his application to contest the election on November 30th, Johnson claimed that the Davies County Board of Elections counted the votes of several people who didn’t sign the voter roster, which he claims would render those votes invalid. He also said the Davies County Board of Elections failed to count 17 absentee ballots.
Now his complaints will be examined by the committee, which is given full authority to investigate the election to determine whether the vote count was accurate.
There have been five Kentucky legislative election contests in the past century, according to Laura Leigh Goins, press secretary for the House Republican Caucus. The most recent contest occurred in the Senate in 2005, when Democrat Virginia Woodward contested Republican Dana Seum Stephenson’s election, alleging that she did not meet the state’s residency requirements.
Despite the Senate’s vote to override the Election Contest Board and seat Seum Stephenson, the Kentucky Supreme Court eventually ruled that Seum Stephenson couldn’t be seated because she didn’t meet the residency requirements. That ruled resulted in a special election.
Anna Whites, Glenn’s attorney, said Seum Stephenson was not similar to the current situation because it was based on qualifications.
“That is not comparable,” Whites said.
Whites has called the contest process partisan in legal filings and has accused Republican leadership of using state resources in an attempt to deny Glenn his seat in the legislature. She has tried to force Osborne to answer questions in a deposition, but a Franklin Circuit Judge ruled against her.
Glenn arrived at the Capitol Tuesday with a copy of his certified election result at his desk. He said the election was recanvassed, he’s been sworn in and the seat is his.
Rep. Derrick Graham, R-Frankfort, said the election contest has the potential to undermine the will of the people in Kentucky and the integrity of the Kentucky House of Representatives.
“This process is not just about one election in one district,” Graham said. “It will set a precedent that will even have repercussions in other states.”
House Majority Whip Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, defended the process against the Democrats’ claims, saying it was the duty of the House to take up Johnson’s contest.
“The process we are going through, you saw, could not have been more fair, could not have been more open,” McCoy said.