Thousands of votes cast but still uncounted could change result of Kobach-Colyer race

Kris Kobach may hold a slim lead in the GOP race for Kansas governor, but even he concedes the outcome of Tuesday’s primary could change after election officials finish tallying thousands of votes that haven’t been counted a day after the polls closed.

Some of those votes for Kobach or Gov. Jeff Colyer are on paper mail-in ballots still en route. As long as they were postmarked on or before election day, those advance ballots will be counted if they arrive at county election offices no later than Friday and are not disqualified for some technical reason.

Election officials will also be hand-counting paper ballots that were damaged and couldn’t be fed into tabulating equipment. Then there are the many provisional ballots cast in person by people whose names were for whatever reason not on the voter rolls when they arrived at the polling place. Or perhaps they had earlier requested a mail-in ballot, but decided at the last minute to vote in person instead.

Officials have to make sure they didn’t vote twice.

As many as 40,000 provisional ballots were cast in the 2016 general election in Kansas, of which fewer than half were rejected, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. A far lower number were cast in the last primary in a nonpresidential election year — 6,333.

What the exact number is this time is yet to be determined. Bryan Caskey, the state director of elections under Kobach, estimated that as many as 10,000 provisional ballots were cast, but said he wouldn’t have a firm count until hearing from 13 counties that haven’t reported.

But with a mere 191 votes separating Kobach and Colyer, even a modest number of uncounted votes or mistakes in counting ballots on election night could make the difference in determining which Republican will face off against Democrat Laura Kelly in the fall general election.

As secretary of state and Kansas’ top election official, Kobach knows that better than anyone.

“As you know, there are several thousand provisional ballots still out there, so the final number will change,” he said at a postelection press conference on Wednesday. “So it is certainly possible that the result of the race could change.”

The final outcome won’t be known until early next week — if then — when county election officials finish counting the mail-in votes and investigate each provisional ballot.

Kobach acknowledged that uncertainty, but said it would be foolhardy for Republicans to wait for the final outcome to begin their general election campaign, then launched into a short speech contrasting Republican and Democratic objectives.

Colyer later issued a news release telling supporters that things might well go his way.

“The Colyer campaign consistently led in mail-in ballots statewide in this election,” it said, “so we can reasonably expect to gain ground as more of these valid ballots are received and counted.”

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