Independent candidate for governor Rick Kloos said grit, determination and precision were necessary to generate at least 5,000 petition signatures required in Kansas to be on the November ballot.
He collected 8,200 from registered Kansas voters without a hint of controversy that roiled the state’s political system when many of fellow independent candidate Greg Orman’s petition signatures were contested by Democrats. The complaint was reviewed by the State Objections Board, a three-member panel of elected officials or their surrogates, before Orman was allowed to keep his name on the gubernatorial ballot along with Kloos; Libertarian Jeff Caldwell, Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly, and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican.
More than 300 of Orman’s petition signatures were disallowed by the board, but panel members decided questions about notarization of petition documents — not thoroughly examined due to lack of witnesses and evidence — didn’t rise to a level necessary to thwart the desire of thousands of people interested in Orman’s name appearing on ballots.
“The circus surrounding Greg Orman and the State Objections Board is a reminder that getting on the ballot as an independent is no easy feat,” Kloos said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said handling of the Orman complaint disclosed much more about Kansas politics. He said the spectacle proved a Kansas law requiring the lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state or their proxies to settle ballot disputes was deeply flawed. All three were employees of Republican statewide officeholders and, despite best intentions, couldn’t escape the political shadow of their bosses, Hensley said.
Hensley, whose chief of Will Lawrence staff filed the Orman petition complaint, said he would draft a bill ahead of the 2019 legislative session to alter composition of the objections board. Instead of three elected officials, he said, a five-person board of retired district court judges should hear ballot challenges.
He recommended the governor and Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate appoint one judge from a list of volunteers maintained by the Kansas District Judges Association.
“It should be taken out of the hands of partisan politicians,” Hensley said. “Essentially, you’ve got the fox guarding the chicken coop.”
Kobach, the Republican nominee for governor who often chairs the State Objections Board, said the board typically handled far less complex cases but did a good job following Kansas precedent. He said there was no evidence independent commissions of the type sought by Hensley escaped criticism for harboring some form of political allegiance.
“I think the (Kansas) structure is reasonable,” Kobach said. “Other states have panels that are independent that end up partisan. And, there’s no accountability. No one can be voted out of office.”
The appeal followed a declaration by the secretary of state’s office that 7,700 of Orman signatures had been verified by county election officials. That was far above the 5,000 necessary to secure a place on the ballot. If all of Lawrence’s claims had been upheld by the board, Orman would have fallen short.
Orman said the “frivolous legal filing by Democrat activists” reflected the party’s opposition to his independent candidacy. He said the squabble showed Democrats were guilty of a type of voter suppression most frequently crafted by Kobach, who has been accused of trying to drive off voters with a citizenship mandate for registration and photograph identification for casting a ballot.
“The voices of thousands of Kansas voters will not be suppressed by political tricks,” Orman said. “The time for ending Republican and Democratic petty politics is now.”
If required to collect petition signatures in the future, Orman’s campaign might consult with Kloos. He gathered 8,200 signatures by September 2017 -- nearly a year before the Aug. 7 deadline -- without the assistance of paid petition circulators. On Aug. 6, Orman submitted more than 10,000 signatures, but spent thousands of dollars to hire people to finish the job.
Kloos’ modest plea going forward: “We ask that voters consider all their choices. We look forward to a fair and open election.”