Independent candidate Greg Orman will remain in the Kansas race for governor after a state board rejected a challenge to his candidacy by Democrats who believe Orman, will draw votes away from Sen. Laura Kelly and ease Kris Kobach’s path to victory.
Democratic attorney Will Lawrence had initially sought to invalidate more than 6,000 signatures on the petition Orman submitted to secure his spot on the November ballot. Orman submitted more than 10,000 signatures, with more than 7,000 validated. Kansas law requires 5,000.
The State Objections Board is made up of the Lt. Governor Tracey Mann, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Kobach. However, all sent proxies in their stead who met for several hours Thursday to consider the challenge. They sifted through 19 exhibits submitted by Lawrence to cast doubt on Orman’s pertition signatures.
Orman said he was expecting the Objections Board to reject the challenge. He said his campaign turned in more than enough signatures before the deadline, and the state can’t toss those signatures because counties took more time than allowed to count them.
He said he understands why the counties had problems. Their election offices were swamped counting and confirming the votes in the extremely close Republican governor primary that Kobach ultimately won over Gov. Jeff Colyer by just 350 votes out of more than 350,000.
Orman did have harsh criticism for Democratic leaders for challenging his petition, saying they claim to favor fair elections, but then filed a “frivolous” complaint to try to disenfranchise Orman supporters.
Kelly’s campaign has declined to comment on the petition challenge. Lawrence, who filed the challenge, is the chief of staff to Senate Democratic leader Anthony Hensley.
The other independent candidate for governor, Topeka pastor Rick Kloos, has noted that he submitted more than 8,000 signatures without an objection raised against him.
Kobach sent longtime deputy Eric Rucker to represent him on the board. Lawrence’s attorney, Pedro Irigonegaray, began the hearing by arguing Rucker shouldn’t sit on the board because of his close relationship to Kobach. The board noted the objection and moved on.
Lawrence’s objection originally centered on more than 6,000 signatures he said should be thrown out because several counties missed a legal deadline to validate them. Soon after the hearing began, the objection as dropped indicating they had come to no longer believe in it.
But Lawrence and his attorney continued to allege some petition circulators had gathered signatures at a potentially impossible fast rate. They also said they had been unable to make contacts with several petition circulators from out of state and said their addresses appeared to be invalid.
In total, they raised doubts about some 3,500 signatures.
At one point Colyer’s chief counsel who represented the lieutenant governor’s office, floated the possibility of bringing in some of Orman’s petition circulators for questioning. That would have delayed a decision for at least several days, if not weeks.
Lawrence and his attorney pointed to problems with the notarization of some signatures. In each case, the board decided to keep the signatures though board members acknowledged that Kansas notary law appeared to have been violated.
Ultimately, the board threw out more than 300 signatures gathered by Kyler Carriker because he is a felon and not qualified to gather signatures. Kansas law requires petition circulators be eligible to register to vote.