FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — His political future down to a coin flip, a Kentucky Republican walked away from an election challenge Friday in a decision that will keep a Democrat in the state legislature and likely avoid a lengthy lawsuit.
Democrat Jim Glenn defeated Republican DJ Johnson on Election Day by a one-vote margin. Kentucky has no automatic recounts, so the State Board of Elections certified Glenn as the winner.
But Johnson had asked the GOP-dominated House of Representatives for a recount, relying on a rarely used state law that lets legislative candidates contest election results. That recount found nine additional votes — five for Johnson and four for Glenn — giving each candidate 6,323 votes.
Johnson's attorney told lawmakers on Friday that they had to pick a winner by drawing lots, suggesting a coin flip or picking a name out of a hat. But Glenn's lawyer vowed to file a lawsuit should he be removed from office.
That's when Johnson withdrew his challenge.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Glenn chooses not to accept what this board does, chooses not to accept the rule of law," Johnson said. "The best solution would be for me to win the coin toss and I get seated. That would be best for me. What's best for my district, what's best for people in my community, is that we end this."
Glenn shook Johnson's hand after the meeting and thanked him for his decision. But Glenn disputed Johnson's characterization that he was not accepting "the rule of law."
"I'm a grown man. I won this race," Glenn said. "I wasn't planning to go back for a coin toss. We're not in elementary school where we are shooting marbles. This is serious business."
The decision also saves the Republican majority in the state House of Representatives from potentially having to remove a Democrat from office. When Johnson contested the election, the House appointed six Republicans and three Democrats — all chosen by random drawing — to an Election Contest Board to oversee the process.
Republican state Rep. Jason Petrie, the board's chairman, vowed to follow the law. But he also noted the final decision of who won the election lies with the House of Representatives, where Republicans control 61 out of 100 seats. Democrats criticized the process as overly partisan, and Glenn's lawyer had asked the state's Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear to investigate.
All of that went away on Friday when Johnson withdrew his challenge.
"The recount did not give us that definitive voice of the people, and that makes us disappointed," Petrie said. "Mr. Johnson made the right call. ... If we go through a draw-by-lot or coin flip, then that's not the voice of the people, that's just luck."
Last week, the Daviess County Clerk's Office recounted more than 12,000 ballots by hand. When they finished, Glenn led by three votes. But after a personal appeal form Johnson and his attorney, the Daviess County Board of Elections reversed an earlier decision and gave him one of those votes back.
The board then decided to open five absentee ballots they had rejected on Election Day for various reasons. Of those five votes, one was blank, Johnson received three and Glenn received one — giving each candidate 6,323 votes.
Nationwide, at least 80 recounts resulted from the 2018 elections, changing an average of 4.8 votes per race, according to research form Johnson's legal team. Of those races, five had been decided by a one-vote margin.
The Kentucky House of Representatives had essentially been on hold while the election challenge was pending, not voting on any legislation. That will change Monday when lawmakers return. Glenn said he plans to spend the day Friday filing several bills.
"I'm going to move on and try to help the people of the 13th district," he said.
Johnson said he would return home and "get my life back in order" and decide what to do next. He said he did not know if he would run against Glenn again in 2020.
"I will leave it at this: I did not throw away my yard signs," he said.