Winner set to be decided in Douglas County Commission 2nd District race Monday, but recount still possible

photo by: Contributed photos

Democratic candidates Nancy Thellman, left, and Shannon Reid, right, will find out who between them is the winner for the Douglas County Commission's 2nd District primary election on Monday.

Almost two weeks after polls closed, a primary election for the Douglas County Commission’s 2nd District seat could finally come to an end on Monday.

The Democratic race between incumbent Commissioner Nancy Thellman and challenger Shannon Reid has been close ever since the Douglas County Clerk’s Office began counting ballots on Aug. 4. But a winner will be decided during a County Commission special meeting on Monday where ballots and election results will be canvassed and certified.

“It’s a coin toss at this point,” Thellman told the Journal-World recently.

With 6,115 2nd District ballots so far counted, Thellman leads Reid by a mere six votes. However, more ballots could be counted during the canvassing process, as the county still has about 600 provisional ballots to consider. It’s unclear how many of those ballots are from voters in the 2nd District, which represents parts of Lawrence and eastern Douglas County.

So far Thellman, who is running for a fourth term as 2nd District representative, has received 2,301 votes, while Reid has received 2,295, giving each of them about 37% of all ballots cast. Sara Taliaferro, the third candidate in the race, has received 1,519 votes, for just under 25%.

As the county saw a massive influx of voting through the mail this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, many votes were counted days after polls closed. With each update from the County Clerk’s Office the days following, Thellman’s lead repeatedly dwindled, falling from 117 votes on Aug. 4 to just six on Aug. 7.

Reid, who specifically challenged Thellman because of her approval of a controversial Douglas County Jail expansion project, called the close race and the trickling of votes “unexpected.” But she said she is feeling positive about her chances of coming from behind to win the race on Monday, particularly because she and her colleagues of the Justice Ticket — which included District Attorney candidate Cooper Overstreet and County Commission 3rd District candidate Shannon Portillo — emphasized getting out the vote on the day of the election.

“The Justice Ticket did an incredible amount of voter outreach and got voters to the polls, sometimes at the last minute,” Reid said. “There’s a variety of scenarios that provisional ballots are cast under, but I think it’s an exciting process.”

Thellman said she did not have much time to think about the race the last two weeks. As the sitting commissioner, she has spent much of that time focusing on crafting the county’s $24.9 million CARES funding plan, which the commissioners finalized on Friday.

“It’s been all-consuming, which has kind of been a good thing,” Thellman said. “I’ve been consumed with the work at hand and I’m glad for the distraction.”

Normally, as a commissioner, Thellman would also be serving on the board canvassing the votes. But she recused herself from the process and Douglas County Register of Deeds Kay Pesnell will take her place, she said.

Even after the results are certified on Monday, the race could still continue. Unlike some other states, Kansas does not have a law that mandates recounts when races are close. But a candidate, particularly the one who loses, will still have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to request a recount.

Although she is currently trailing, Reid said she was unsure whether she would request a recount. She said she wants to see how the canvass goes and keep her options open.

Thellman, on the other hand, said she will most likely request a recount if she ends up losing by a close margin. She said she would expect any candidate to use that option available to them to make sure all of the votes are counted. But both Thellman and Reid said they trust County Clerk Jamie Shew and his staff to conduct the process transparently.

Regardless of how the votes end, the winner will have won the election without a majority of the Democratic votes cast in the district. Noting that Thellman is an incumbent who did not earn a majority of votes, Reid said she believes the district’s voters sent a message that they are looking for a leadership change.

Thellman said she was “struck” by the fact that none of the candidates would earn a majority, calling it a “particular lesson” for her as the incumbent in the race. But if she is fortunate enough to win, she said she will have to work hard to regain the trust of those who voted to choose a different leader.

“I would hope any candidate who makes it over to the winning side, especially without a majority, would be very sensitive to trying to build a majority over the years,” Thellman said.

The winner of the race will likely become the next commissioner for the 2nd District. A Republican will appear on the November general election ballot for the seat — Brett LaRue — but he previously told the Journal-World that he was not actively campaigning for the seat, and he also endorsed Thellman in the race.

The County Commission will hold the special meeting for the canvass at 9 a.m. Monday. The meeting will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 934-3573-1080.

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