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Kansas election official releases provisional voter names in Topeka race

  • Associated Press
  • Published Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, at 10:01 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, at 7:02 a.m.

— TOPEKA Shawnee County Election Commissioner Andrew Howell on Friday turned over the names of 104 voters who cast provisional ballots to the candidates in a tight Kansas House race, despite a federal lawsuit filed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach that tried to block the release.

A local judge ordered Howell to provide the list to Democratic Rep. Ann Mah and her Republican challenger, Ken Corbet, both from Topeka. Mah had filed a lawsuit in state court to force the county to releases the names after it declined to do so.

“I’m out of time,” Howell said, adding that he relied on legal advice from the county’s lawyer.

Mah trails Corbet by 27 votes out of more than 10,600 cast in the 54th House District.

She wants to contact voters who filed provisional ballots, which are cast when poll workers aren’t sure whether someone is eligible to vote at a particular site and are set aside for review.

Mah, one of Kobach’s most vocal critics in the Legislature, said she wants to contact those voters to help them correct any problems so their ballots are counted. She hopes the new votes will eliminate Corbet’s lead.

Kobach’s office had advised county election officials statewide against releasing voters’ names, suggesting it would violate state and federal law.

District Judge Rebecca Crotty disagreed and told Shawnee County to release the names Friday.

Kobach said Friday evening that he would still pursue his federal lawsuit in hopes of preventing Mah and Corbet from contacting voters or distributing the list to others.

Mah has repeatedly criticized Kobach, a Republican, and her fellow Democrats have suggested that Kobach is trying to eliminate Mah’s last chance at winning her race. But Kobach said his real concern was voter privacy and making sure Kansas follows federal law.

Elected county clerks run elections in 101 of the state’s 105 counties, but the secretary of state appoints election commissioners in the four most populous ones, including Sedgwick County. Kobach appointed Howell this summer, but he’s on the county’s payroll.

Howell said that while he knew of the federal lawsuit, he hadn’t been formally notified and no federal judge had signed an order or scheduled a hearing by Friday evening. Crotty had ordered the county to try to get the list to Mah and Corbet by the end of the business day.

“While I don’t like it, I don’t think I have any choice,” Howell said.

Meanwhile, Kansas Democratic Party leaders said Democratic Rep. Geraldine Flaharty of Wichita filed a similar lawsuit in Sedgwick County District Court to obtain the names of voters casting provisional ballots in her 98th District. Flaharty trails Republican Rep. Phil Hermanson of Wichita by 138 votes out of nearly 6,000 cast in an incumbent-versus-incumbent contest that was forced by political redistricting.

Kobach said the judge ruled against Flaharty, citing the federal law, on Friday. The AP couldn’t independently obtain a copy of the judge’s order Friday night.

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