Government & Politics

Kansas ballots go overseas without a Democrat in Senate race

Hundreds of Kansas ballots are on their way to overseas voters without the name of a Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate — but with an unusual note from election authorities.

The ballots were mailed the day after the Kansas Supreme Court ordered Secretary of State Kris Kobach to strike Democrat Chad Taylor from the ballot.

Some ballots went out earlier, with Taylor’s name. Those were amended Friday.

Kobach argued Thursday that state law required Democrats to provide a new candidate. He gave them a week to come up with a replacement and suggested the ballots might be delayed.

On Friday, Kobach appeared to change course, telling election clerks to mail their overseas ballots now to meet a federal deadline.

Kobach hasn’t dropped his argument that Democrats need a nominee. Instead, he told local election officials to include a notice outlining the ballot dispute and suggesting a different ballot may eventually be necessary.

“You may vote using the ballot accompanying this letter as soon as you receive it, or you may wait to vote until you’ve received further notification from us,” the notice tells overseas voters.

Election officials said they would comply with Kobach’s instructions.

“I redid my ballot to remove Chad Taylor’s name,” said Leavenworth County Clerk Janet Klasinski. “This county election office is mailing its ballots.”

Taylor, a Democrat, withdrew from the race Sept. 3, but Kobach ruled the withdrawal was not properly submitted. The state’s Supreme Court disagreed.

Some news organizations reported that the U.S. Justice Department was willing to give the state an extra week to mail its overseas ballots in case another candidate was chosen.

But the Justice Department said Friday it had not offered any waiver for overseas ballots in Kansas. In fact, a spokeswoman said, the department has sued states that have failed to mail ballots 45 days before Election Day, as required by law.

There was other confusion Friday.

Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby said his office had mailed 67 ballots with Taylor’s name Thursday, before the state Supreme Court ruling. He said the office was unsure about the court’s decision schedule and wanted to make sure the Saturday deadline was met.

After the decision, the office sent out notices correcting the ballots.

The ballot adjustments were made against the backdrop of another lawsuit that seeks to force Kansas Democrats to pick a replacement for Taylor.

The petition was filed Friday by David Orel of Kansas City, Kan. He said he is a Democrat and wanted to vote for a Democratic Senate candidate. Taylor’s removal, he said, unfairly affected his right to vote.

The state Supreme Court took no public action on Orel’s petition.

Election law expert Rick Hasen said it was unlikely to succeed. The court ruling, he pointed out, doesn’t prevent anyone from voting for a Democrat, including Taylor, as a write-in candidate.

The ballot battle has attracted national attention.

Incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Roberts has trailed in recent polls. His supporters think he would have a better chance facing two major candidates, splitting the anti-Roberts vote, than with just one formidable challenger.

Taylor’s withdrawal — without a replacement — allows anti-Roberts sentiment to coalesce around well-financed independent Greg Orman.

The dynamic has prompted the confusing battle in Kansas, in which Republicans are trying to keep a Democrat on the ballot and Democrats want to keep him off.

The Kansas Democratic Party did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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