TOPEKA – Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach jumped Wednesday into a lawsuit filed by a disgruntled voter seeking to force Kansas Democrats to name a new U.S. Senate nominee in hopes of speeding the resolution of a legal dispute shadowing a race with possible national implications.
Kobach filed a motion to intervene in Shawnee County District Court and a request for a decision by Oct. 1, saying quick action is necessary so ballots can be printed in time for people to begin voting in advance on Oct. 15.
Kobach, like the voter, argues that a state election law requires Democrats to replace ex-nominee Chad Taylor, who earlier this month dropped out of the race against three-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.
Some Democrats pushed Taylor out, seeing independent candidate Greg Orman as the stronger rival for Roberts – and they don’t want a new nominee, fearing a major split of the anti-Roberts vote. Many Republicans are pushing for a new Democratic candidate to increase the chances of Roberts holding the seat and the GOP recapturing a Senate majority.
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The voter who sued the Kansas Democratic Party and three top officials is David Orel, 57, of Kansas City, Kansas. His son works for the re-election campaign of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback who, like Kobach, serves on Roberts’ honorary campaign committee. But the elder Orel has been a registered Democrat at least since 1999 and voted in the Democratic primary this year, voter registration records show.
Kobach said in an interview that he wants to intervene because, as the state’s top elections official, the court might want to order his office to take some action. A three-judge panel will hear the case.
“In this particular case, the wheels of justice have to grind quickly, not slowly,” Kobach said. “We’re just trying to pave the way for the court to do whatever it wants to do quickly and efficiently.”
Kobach contends in his court filings that he’s trying to get Democrats to follow state law, but Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon said the secretary of state is trying to protect Roberts.
“This is the act of a desperate man,” Wagnon said.
Kobach had refused to remove Taylor’s name from the Nov. 4 ballot, saying the letter Taylor sent to Kobach’s office wasn’t sufficient under a state law limiting when nominees can withdraw. But the Kansas Supreme Court last week ordered Taylor’s name removed.
Minutes after that decision, Orel filed a petition with the Supreme Court. The justices sent the case to the district court, saying more evidence-gathering is necessary. Tom Haney, Orel’s attorney, said he welcomes Kobach’s intervention.
“We plan to proceed to see if he can get somebody to vote for,” Haney said.
Voter registration records from Kobach’s office show Orel voted in at least the last five Democratic primaries. His 22-year-old son, Alex, who works for the Brownback campaign, registered as an unaffiliated voter in November 2009 but switched at the polls in the August primary to cast a GOP ballot.