June 3, 2014

Recanvas for 3rd district magistrate shows same result

By Nita Johnson
Staff Writer

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — A recanvas in the third district magistrate’s race performed by the Laurel County Clerk’s office yielded the same result from the May 20 primary election.

The recanvas showed that incumbent third district magistrate Teddy Benge fended off challenger Rufus Fields, the next highest vote-getter, by 28 votes in the primary election.

Due to the narrow margin of the win, Fields requested a recanvas of the votes, which was performed on Thursday morning.

The recanvas was done in the third floor conference room of the Laurel County Courthouse with Fields seated at the end of the table from the Laurel County Election Commission members.

Laurel County Clerk Dean Johnson handed the envelopes from the nine voting precincts and absentee ballots for the third district to election commission member,  Robbie Grimes. Grimes called out the number of votes for each of the various candidates in the magisterial race before handing the rolls over to other election commissioners. When all precincts and absentee votes were checked, Grimes looked on as Bernice Chesnut and Lorene Brock compared the original numbers with the newest readings.

“There’s no change in the results,” Johnson said after the women confirmed that all numbers were exactly the same on the second review.

“Those aren’t totaled,” Fields said as election commissioners began putting the paperwork away.

“They’ve already been totaled on the computer,” Johnson explained, adding that the recanvas was simply a check of the votes and then compared to the original numbers. If the numbers match exactly on both forms, there is no need to re-add the numbers from each precinct.

Fields then questioned the absentee votes, stating that Benge received 170 votes from the absentee ballots.

“Don’t it raise a red flag when he (Benge) got more (absentee) votes than all the other magistrates combined?” Fields said.

Standing nearby was another candidate for the third district, Junior Hammons. Hammons also questioned the number of absentee votes in his district cast for Benge. While he said he accepts being defeated in this bid for magistrate, he is concerned about how absentee  voting is conducted.

Johnson said this is the seventh time he has overseen a recanvas in local elections. He explained that a recanvas checks the total number of votes for a particular area being questioned. With such slim margins of victory, candidates can request the recanvas.

A recount, however, involves the filing of a civil lawsuit at the circuit-court level. In those cases, a panel of election officials from Frankfort conduct a precinct by precinct individual count of votes received. This process is an expensive one in which the person who files the complaint must reimburse the election officials and the court for their time and costs.

Fields had little other comment publicly, and did not state whether he intended to pursue the situation any further.

Benge did not attend the recanvas, stating that he has “full trust in Dean (Johnson) and his staff.”

“I got beat by 30 votes once but I didn’t ask for a recanvas because I know Dean and his office are capable of doing things the right way.”

Benge did commend his opponents for their conduct during and after the campaign.

“I’d like to send my congratulations to all the candidates for a good, clean race,” Benge said. “We didn’t do any mud-slinging and seven people running shows the interest that people here have for their community. We want to keep working toward better roads and new jobs and seeing the kids who are growing up here to have a good life.”