Topeka — In a race still too close to call, neither Sen. David Haley nor Wichita lawyer Robert Beattie was willing Wednesday to cede the Democratic nomination for secretary of state.
Unofficial returns from Tuesday's primary showed Haley and Beattie separated by just 317 votes of nearly 70,000 cast, with Haley holding the edge with 50.23 percent of the vote against 49.77 percent for Beattie.
The winner goes on the Nov. 7 ballot to face incumbent Republican Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, who defeated Haley in 2002.
Haley, of Kansas City, Kan., said Wednesday he's moving ahead with his campaign. Beattie is waiting for the final outcome, expected next week.
The final tally could be decided by provisional ballots - those set aside by poll workers because of some question such as a voter's valid address. Such ballots need verification by county boards of canvassers, which meet the Friday or Monday after an election depending on the county.
State Election Director Brad Bryant said he was unaware of a statewide election in the past two decades in which provisional ballots altered the outcome. In 2002, Republican Phill Kline had a narrow lead over Democrat Chris Biggs in the attorney general's race, and the provisional ballots widened Kline's lead.
"There is the potential for change, but historically the provisional voters haven't voted significantly different than the non-provisionals," Bryant said.
Even so, Beattie isn't calling it quits.
"This election is too close to call," said Beattie, who gained fame as author of the book "Nightmare in Wichita: The Hunt for the BTK Strangler."
"The provisional ballots can be a determining factor, and that is why I am waiting until they are counted," he said.
Haley, meanwhile, is proceeding as if he were already the declared winner.
"We have claimed victory. We have begun the process of unifying the party and winning the war in November," Haley said. "Many of the provisional ballots come from the counties that I carried overwhelmingly."
Haley carried 21 counties that included voter-rich metro areas of Wyandotte, Johnson, Shawnee and Douglas. Beattie won 84 counties, many sparsely populated rural ones but also Sedgwick, which includes Wichita, the state's largest city.
The number of provisional ballots won't be fully known until the counties start counting them. But in the four most populous counties - Johnson, Sedgwick, Wyandotte and Shawnee - several hundred provisionals ballots could be in play.
Provisional ballots have been around since 1993. The most frequent reason for declaring a ballot provisional is a change of address that didn't reach election officials in time. If the ballot is declared valid, it's added to those already cast.
In a race this tight, every vote throughout the state could make a difference.
"Fifty here and 50 there, it can add up real fast depending on where the provisional votes fall," said Bill Gale, Sedgwick County election commissioner.
In the GOP primary, Thornburgh won the right to seek a fourth term by defeating conservative Sen. Kay O'Connor, of Olathe, with 73 percent of the vote.