Kobach’s lead widens in Kansas GOP primary after state’s 2 largest counties report their provisional ballot counts

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach and his wife Heather thank their supporters and send them home for the night after problems with polls in Johnson County, Kan., delayed the final results until the early morning on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka, Kan. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

Updated story

Colyer concedes GOP primary, congratulates Kobach

TOPEKA – With the state’s two largest counties reporting their provisional ballot counts on Tuesday, the hotly-contested Republican primary for governor tilted a little more in favor of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who now leads incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer by 345 votes, out of more than 315,000 ballots counted so far, a margin of 0.1 percent.

That could prove to be an insurmountable lead because there are only 15 counties remaining that have not yet counted their provisional ballots, most of them small, rural counties where there aren’t very many ballots at stake.

Moments after the Johnson County results were released, Kobach held a news conference in Overland Park where he stopped just short of declaring victory.

“We expect this trend to continue, and as this trend continues, I’m issuing a call to unity for all Republicans as we now gear up and start marching in the general election,” Kobach said.

Kobach said he was not calling on Colyer to concede, but he said the outcome of the primary should be known by Thursday, after the next three largest counties conduct their canvasses.

Colyer was scheduled to hold a separate news conference in the Statehouse at 7:30 p.m.

The three largest counties yet to complete their canvasses are Wyandotte, Douglas and Shawnee. Combined, those counties only have 1,445 ballots left to count.

Typically, only about 60 percent of provisional ballots are eventually counted, which would lower that number to 867 ballots. And based on those counties’ voter registration numbers, as many as half of those are likely to be Democratic ballots that won’t factor into the Republican primary.

As of Monday night, Kobach had a 206-vote lead over Colyer, but that widened early Wednesday as votes from Sedgwick and a few other counties came in.

In Johnson County, where Colyer was leading as of Friday, 43-34 percent, the final canvass added 301 votes to Colyer’s column, but 325 votes to Kobach’s, for a net gain of 24 votes in Kobach’s favor.

But the Colyer campaign was already showing signs Tuesday that it is laying the groundwork for a legal battle.

On Tuesday, an attorney representing the campaign sent a letter to Johnson County officials, protesting their decision to disallow 153 mail-in ballots on the basis that the signatures on the envelopes did not match signatures on file in the county’s voter registration database.

Attorney Edward D. Greim, of the Kansas City, Mo., law firm Graves Garrett, LLC, argued that Kansas law only requires signature verification when a voter requests an advance ballot.

“Kansas law does not require the ‘verification’ of ballot envelope signatures as a condition precedent to counting votes,” Greim stated in the letter. “It certainly does not allow ballots to be cast out based solely on the suspicion of an election worker.”

In voiding those ballots, Johnson County officials cited a statute that says, “If the advance voting ballot was transmitted by mail, the voter personally shall place the ballot in the ballot envelope bearing the same number as the ballot and seal the envelope. The voter shall complete the form on the ballot envelope and shall sign the same.”

In his letter, though, Greim said family members who live in the same household often sign the wrong envelopes.

“In many if not all cases in which there is no match, this occurs because a husband and wife have accidentally switched envelopes before signing, or one household member has signed for another–even though each household member voted his or her own ballot,” he wrote. “We understand that this can readily be verified by simply reviewing signatures of the other household members.”

During his news conference, Kobach dismissed that argument as a “Hail Mary pass.” Kobach said that in 2011, he personally drafted the current statute on signature requirements and said they are considered important to ensure the person who fills out and returns a ballot is the same person who requested it.

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