A Democratic legislator in a close re-election fight alleged Thursday that Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach was trying to deflect scrutiny of a voter ID law he championed when he filed an unsuccessful lawsuit aimed at preventing her from contacting constituents who cast provisional ballots.
But Kobach rejected the criticism from state Rep. Ann Mah of Topeka, saying he has repeatedly given her and other legislators detailed information about the law's administration.
Mah, one of Kobach's most persistent critics, trailed Republican challenger Ken Corbet of Topeka by 42 votes out of nearly 10,700 cast in her race as officials in Douglas and Shawnee counties reviewed provisional ballots Thursday.
The 54th House District also includes parts of Osage County, but it certified its results Monday by reviewing provisional ballots without releasing voters' names to the candidates. Corbet had a net gain of 17 votes in Osage County but a net loss of two in Douglas County. Shawnee County officials said they expected to declare a winner Thursday night.
Mah and her supporters sought to contact provisional voters and help them correct potential problems — including the lack of a valid photo ID — so that their ballots would be counted, hoping that she'd pick up enough votes to overcome Corbet's lead. But Mah said Thursday that contacting provisional voters also would help her and others gather information about the effects of the voter ID law.
Kobach, a former law professor, is known nationally for helping draft Arizona and Alabama laws cracking down on illegal immigration, but he also championed the voter ID law in Kansas as a way to combat election fraud.
Kobach advised county election officials last week against releasing the names of provisional voters, arguing that it would violate federal law. Mah filed a successful state district court lawsuit to force Shawnee County to provide a list of such voters to both her and Corbet, but Kobach responded with a federal lawsuit to keep them from contacting those voters. A federal judge ruled against Kobach on Wednesday.
Mah voted for one version of the voter ID law, the final one, in 2011, but she has repeatedly argued that it will suppress turnout, particularly among poor, minority and elderly voters. She also has argued that it's likely to be challenged in court and that Kobach's desire to protect the law was behind his legal battles over her access to provisional voter names.
"If you can't look at the provisionals, you'll never know who lost their vote," Mah told The Associated Press. "If he can block access to the names, he can put himself in a better position in a forthcoming lawsuit."
The law allows voters without valid IDs at the polls to cast provisional ballots, then present proper identification to officials before results are certified. Kobach and other supporters of the law say that based on anecdotal reports from polling places, less than one in every 1,000 voters had to cast a provisional ballot because of the law.
"Every time Mrs. Mah has requested information about the implementation of the photo ID law, we have given her all the information she's requested, except the voters' names," Kobach said. "There's no reason the Legislature needs voter names."
Kobach said releasing provisional voters' names jeopardizes their privacy and the integrity of the secret ballot.
"This issue really transcends the Mah-Corbet race," he said. "We have close races all over the state every election cycle."
Provisional ballots are cast when election workers aren't sure people are eligible to vote at particular polling places, for reasons including the lack of a proper photo ID or a name change upon getting married. Each ballot is placed in an envelope and set aside for further review.
Osage County officials counted 53 provisional ballots in Mah's race with Corbet. In Douglas County, there were only four valid provisional ballots in the district. Mah and Corbet received a list of 104 provisional voters from Shawnee County.
"I'm not holding out much hope that I'm going to win this thing," Mah said.
And Corbet said he's confident of prevailing because, "I'm still ahead."