A challenge of the Kansas secretary of state’s decision to allow independent candidate Greg Orman on the November ballot led Thursday to seven hours of laborious examination by a state board of petition signatures, notary declarations and mysterious addresses of petition circulators.
In the end, Orman preserved his position on the statewide ballot and the right to continue an insurgent campaign.
It wasn’t quite the “hanging chad” debacle created by recounting votes in the Florida presidential election in 2000, but the debate regarding Orman’s candidacy ventured into the weeds of Kansas election law.
Orman’s attorney, the counsel for Democrats who filed the challenge, and all three members of the State Objections Board quickly agreed that as many as 323 petition signatures collected by an Orman volunteer with a felony record should be tossed.
Objections tied to 3,900 of 7,700 approved signatures on Orman’s petitions were denied by the board. However, the conflict may not be over -- the challengers could file a lawsuit. A complaint alleging some county officials missed a 10-day deadline for affirming petition signatures was dropped at the start of the hearing.
Orman must keep the minimum 5,000 signatures from qualified voters in Kansas to preserve a spot on the ballot in November. The attempt to knock him out of contention was viewed as a bid to give Democratic nominee Laura Kelly a clean shot at GOP candidate and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who recused himself from the objections board.
The case was heard by Eric Rucker, assistant secretary of state and Kobach’s replacement; Brant Laue, general counsel for the governor, who represented Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann; and Athena Andaya, a deputy attorney general taking the spot reserved for Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
While details of the complaint were explored, Kobach and Orman held impromptu news conferences in the hallway to discuss the petition controversy and governor’s race.
Orman blasted Kelly and Democrats for allegedly engaging in voter suppression by angling to erase his name from ballots. He lit into Republicans and House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, for issuing a warning to two dozen moderate GOP House members of “serious repercussions” if they publicly supported anyone other than Kobach.
“They’re more interested in acquisition of power,” Orman said. “We aren’t going to be deterred by their tactics.”
He said the petition conflict reflected a desire of major party bosses to control elections.
“You know, they’re being forced to choose between the shingles and the flu, and they don’t want either,” he said.
Kobach said he opposed the attempt by Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray to force Rucker’s recusal from the hearing panel. Irigonegaray represented the filer of the complaint against Orman, Will Lawrence, chief of staff for Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat who has endorsed Kelly.
“We believe statutorily it has to be someone from our office,” Kobach said.
Irigonegaray said Rucker’s position as chairman of the objections board amounted to a conflict of interest because Rucker was asked to make a decision directly influencing Kobach’s political career. The board disagreed with Irigonegaray’s contention that Rucker’s “irreconcilable conflict” had to be avoided.
Kobach declined to discuss whether he preferred to have Orman on the general election ballot. In addition to the major candidates, Libertarian Jeff Caldwell and independent Rick Kloos will be included on ballots.
Gov. Jeff Colyer, despite losing the primary by a razor-thin 345 votes out of more than 300,000 Republican ballots, endorsed Kobach for governor.
Irigonegaray and Lawrence presented nearly 20 exhibits purporting to show irregularities in the petitions submitted Aug. 6 by Orman’s campaign. Their complaint centered on whether petition forms were properly notarized and filled out accurately by petition circulators, especially those handled by out-of-state people hired by Orman. One gave his permanent address as a homeless shelter, while another said he resided at a motel.
“We have raised substantial and compelling reasons to continue to investigate,” Irigonegaray said.
Orman submitted 10,266 signatures drawn from people living in 66 Kansas counties. Kobach’s office reported 7,700 were deemed acceptable and justified Orman’s placement on the ballot.