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Provisional ballots may alter District 2 race

The District 2 primary race for the Wichita City Council is headed for instant replay.

Only it won't happen right away. The final outcome of the race will have to wait until provisional ballots are counted Friday.

Thirty-eight of the 88 provisional ballots cast in Tuesday's election were from District 2, Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Bill Gale said Wednesday.

After Tuesday's voting ended, candidate Pete Meitzner had 10 more votes than Steve Harris.

Charlie Stevens led the field by 130 votes in the bid to replace Sue Schlapp, who is leaving because of term limits.

In order to decide whether Meitzner or Harris will join Stevens in advancing to the April 5 general election, the provisional ballots will be canvassed Friday morning at the election office.

Going with a March Madness theme, Meitzner said, "I feel like I made a three-pointer at the end of the game to win it, and now the referees have to review it."

Harris reached back to Yogi Berra as well as the 1948 presidential election to explain his feelings.

"I say, 'It ain't over till it's over.' Who said that?" Harris said.

That would be Berra, the New York Yankees' Hall of Fame catcher.

Harris also went to the Internet to find the well-known picture of incumbent President Harry Truman holding up a Nov. 3, 1948, copy of the Chicago Tribune that carried the banner headline: "Dewey Defeats Truman." That was the day after Truman beat challenger Thomas Dewey in an upset victory.

Harris e-mailed that picture to several people, including Meitzner.

On Friday, Gale will present recommendations on which provisional ballots to accept to the Sedgwick County Board of Canvassers, made up of the five county commissioners. Either the commissioners or their proxies will decide.

Usually about 90 percent of provisional ballots are accepted by the board and counted, Gale said.

None of Tuesday's other primary races were close enough for the provisional ballots to make a difference.

Provisional ballots are cast at the polls on Election Day when questions arise about a voter's eligibility. Most often a voter has moved from one precinct to another and hasn't updated voter registration, Gale said.

At the close of voting Tuesday, Stevens had 1,432 votes, Meitzner 1,302 and Harris 1,292.

If Meitzner emerges as the victor, Harris said he would endorse him in the general election. "I'll support him 100 percent," said Harris, 63, CEO at Galichia Heart Hospital. "Pete and I are closely aligned philosophically."

Meitzner, 55, a business consultant, said he wasn't ready to make an endorsement if Harris won, but he said, "I lean more towards agreeing with what Steve says than Charlie."

Stevens, 41, a real estate investor, has taken a hard line against the city using most economic incentives for businesses.

Harris has voiced support for many of the incentives the city has used recently, though he has been critical about the city's background checks. Meitzner has said he would examine each application for incentives on its own merit.

What Meitzner was sure about was his disappointment in Tuesday's low turnout.

"I was thinking it would be larger," he said.

In an election that saw only 7.7 percent turnout among Wichita's registered voters, District 2 did a little better.

The city's second-largest district, on the east side, saw 11.1 percent — or 4,707 of the district's 42,342 registered voters — cast ballots.

This primary is the closest since the counting of provisional ballots decided the 2005 race in District 6, in northwest Wichita.

Bob Aldrich led Richard Lopez by three votes for second place after Election Day. But when provisional ballots were counted, Lopez won by six votes.

He went on to lose to incumbent Sharon Fearey in the general election.

There's always a chance a count of provisional ballots would leave Harris and Meitzner in a tie.

In that case, a special hat kept in a box on top of a bookcase at the election office will be used to draw one name, Gale said.

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