Legal experts say independent candidate for governor Greg Orman faces at least a potential threat to lose his spot on the ballot in Kansas’ general election.
An objection filed with the Kansas Secretary of State’s office on Monday targets the signatures Orman gathered for ballot access. The letter was filed on behalf of William Lawrence, the chief of staff for Democratic state Senate leader Anthony Hensley.
The letter included multiple accusations. The first is the broadest and targets the most votes. It contends that several counties, including Sedgwick and Johnson, submitted the certified signatures for Orman to the Secretary of State’s office after the statutory deadline.
Yet legal analysts said that courts tend to avoid punishing candidates because of technical mistakes outside of a candidate’s control.
“It’s unlikely a court would say that a processing glitch by the county would be enough to disqualify a candidate that otherwise got the signatures,” said University of Kansas law professor Richard Levy.
Other accusations give analysts more pause. One claims a person gathering signatures for the campaign has a felony conviction, making the person ineligible for that work. Though he is only responsible for 323 of the signatures, the letter says there are “at least three examples of questionable signature gatherers.” The letter also points out suspicious timelines associated with some affidavits.
The three-page objection doesn’t contain much evidence, but legal analysts said there is enough that the Orman campaign can’t ignore the accusations.
“It’s a process that has to be taken seriously,” said Mark Johnson, a partner with law firm Dentons. “You don’t know what kind of evidence the person filing the objections has to back up the allegations until they have to provide the evidence.”
An objections board will hold a hearing Thursday morning to review the objection. The hearing is made up of representatives from the offices of attorney general, secretary of state and lieutenant governor. All three are held by Republicans. Polls have suggested the GOP nominee for governor, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, fares a better chance with Orman in the race rather than a head-to-head race with Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly.
Orman poses the risk of splitting the moderate and liberal vote between himself and Kelly, potentially handing the election to Kobach.
The author of the letter on behalf of Lawrence is Pedro Irigonegaray, a lawyer who knocked a Democrat off the ballot in the 2014 so Orman had a clear run against Pat Roberts for the U.S. Senate.
“(Irigonegaray’s) not one of these people that just suddenly makes unfounded allegations,” said Jeffery Jackson, a law professor at Washburn University. “At the very least, it does signify that the complainants have acquired some competent representation.”
Stephan Bisaha reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on @SteveBisaha.