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Monday, November 12, 2012 11:36 AM

Osage County certifying vote in tight House race

By The Associated Press

LYNDON — Officials in one northeast Kansas county on Monday moved toward certifying the results in this fall’s closest state House race amid a legal battle over another county’s vote counting that involves the Democratic legislator who’s trailing and the conservative Republican secretary of state she’s often criticized.

The Osage County Commission decided to review dozens of provisional ballots, decide which ones are valid and then certify local election results, including for the county’s portion of the 54th House District, which includes parts of three counties. Democratic Rep. Ann Mah of Topeka trails Republican challenger Ken Corbet, also of Topeka, by 27 votes out of the more than 10,600 cast.

Mah filed a successful lawsuit Friday in neighboring Shawnee County to force it to release the names of voters who cast provisional ballots. She and other Democrats hope to contact them and help them correct potential problems so that their ballots will be counted. She was hoping to pick up enough votes to defeat Corbet, having carried the Shawnee County portion of the district in unofficial results.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach objected to releasing the names and filed his own lawsuit in federal court to block the candidates from using them. He contends that voters’ privacy is at stake, but Mah and other Democrats argue that he’s trying to block her last, slim chance for overcoming Corbet’s lead because she’s a vocal opponent of a law Kobach championed to require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Corbet carried the smaller portions of the district in neighboring Douglas and Osage counties, and he hoped to use the same tactics to add to his totals in Osage County. More than 200 ballots were cast in the district among the three counties, with more than 100 in Shawnee County and almost 90 in Osage County.

Attorneys representing Corbet and the Republican Party argued that it wouldn’t be fair for voters in Osage County to be denied extra time to correct any potential problems with their ballots when voters in Shawnee County are getting it.

“They’re not going to have the impetus of candidates contacting them to encourage them,” Caleb Crook, an attorney representing the Republicans, said. “Without that, it’s an unfair playing field.”

But the three Osage County Commission members, all Republicans, were put off by the idea of releasing the information, having received advice both from the county attorney and Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office against doing so.

“What do we have a secret election for, then?” Carl Meyer, commission chairman, said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Mah and longtime Democratic Party activist Joe Scranton told county commissioners that she was comfortable with Osage County moving ahead to certify election results. The commission then began reviewing the provisional ballots one by one.

Provisional ballots are cast when election workers aren’t sure people are eligible to vote at particular polling places, for reasons including the lack of a proper photo ID, a recent move or, for some women, a name change upon getting married. Each ballot is placed in an envelope and set aside for further review. Counties have until Thursday to certify their results, and Douglas and Shawnee county officials plan to wait until then.

The list released Friday by Shawnee County to the candidates — and obtained by The Associated Press from a political source — contains 104 names of voters who cast provisional ballots on two pages, in no particular order, with no other information. Douglas County released a list of fewer than 30 names Thursday, before the legal wrangling began.

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