Secretary of State Kris Kobach padded his lead over Gov. Jeff Colyer as more counties updated their unofficial results in last week's primary.
The governor's last best hope of closing the gap before a recount resides in Johnson County, which was expected to add 1,400 provisional ballots. In the strongest indication yet of possible litigation, Colyer's legal team sent a letter to the county's elections director regarding 153 ballots that are in dispute.
The contenders for the GOP nomination for governor are separated by about 300 votes as Kobach received a boost when Sedgwick County finished tallying provisional ballots.
Bryan Caskey, the state elections director, said 62 of the state's 105 counties finished their work on Monday. Kobach's lead has grown from 110 at the start of the week. As of 3:45 p.m., the margin was 320.
The next two largest remaining counties — Shawnee and Wyandotte — are set to canvass votes on Thursday. The deadline to request a recount is Friday. If provisional ballots match overall trends, Kobach would expand his lead by a few more votes.
Things could be different in Johnson County, though, where Colyer claimed 43 percent of the vote, compared to 37 percent for Kobach. Even so, Kobach is expected to retain his position atop the leaderboard — setting the stage for a recount and possible lawsuit.
Colyer began laying the groundwork for litigation when he raised objections to directives Kobach's office was giving to counties about which provisional ballots should be allowed. The two sides disagree about whether to count ballots from unaffiliated voters if a poll worker mistakenly didn't ask them to fill out necessary paperwork.
In a new objection, Colyer's legal team sent a letter to Johnson County elections director Ronnie Metsker, who was appointed to his position by Kobach, arguing the canvassing board should reconsider 153 ballots that were set aside "based solely on an election worker’s suspicion that the signature on the ballot envelope does not match the county’s record." The letter argues that Kansas law doesn't require the verification of signatures and says similar ballots were counted elsewhere.
Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an ally of the Democratic nominee for governor, state Sen. Laura Kelly, needled Republicans with a reference to Kobach's efforts to enforce strict requirements on voter registrations.
"It is nice to see the sudden Republican interest — from both (Colyer and Kobach) — in counting votes and election issues," Sebelius said. "Gov. Colyer was totally silent as Secretary Kobach restricted the voting of over 35,000 Kansans."
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican who supports Kobach, called on her party to consider the political ramifications of a legal battle for the nomination.
"Democrats are hoping for a drawn-out litigation process because it’s the only way they can win this November," Wagle said. "It’s time for the (Kansas Republican Party) to unite and back whoever comes out on top this week. Let’s keep Kansas red."