The challenge of independent gubernatorial candidate Greg Orman's eligibility for the ballot filed Monday by Democrats alleged thousands of signatures should be disallowed after officials in seven counties missed a deadline for certifying petition names for the secretary of state.
Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray filed notice with the secretary of state's office that irregularities with Orman's petitions — if sustained — would leave him short of the required 5,000 notarized signatures of registered Kansas voters to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.
In early August, Orman submitted 10,000 signatures on petitions. The complaint says more than 6,000 ought to be tossed.
"After careful review of the petition submitted by Greg Orman to appear as an independent candidate for Kansas governor," Irigonegaray said in the objection letter, "a pattern of errors, deficiencies and potential illegal use of notaries raise serious doubts as to whether his name can appear on the general election ballot."
Supporters of Democratic nominee Laura Kelly have sought to undermine Orman's attempt to earn a place on the general election ballot with Kelly, GOP nominee Kris Kobach and two other candidates for governor. There is speculation Orman and Kelly could fight to a draw and make victory easier for Kobach. He won only 40 percent of the vote in the GOP primary.
Under state law, Orman was required to submit 5,000 valid signatures on petitions to the secretary of state's office to add his name to ballots in November. On Friday, Kobach's staff said a review of the petitions indicated Orman met that mark but made no mention of possible deadline problems.
Orman, a Johnson County businessman, said on the day he submitted his petition signatures that he anticipated partisan attacks to thwart his candidacy.
"We've done a great job of gathering signatures from Kansans who want another choice in November," Orman said. "Both parties would like to avoid electoral accountability by preventing candidates who really speaks to the real needs of Kansans from getting on the ballot." On Monday, Orman spokesman Sam Edelen amplified the argument this ballot challenge was folly.
"This frivolous filing by the lawyer for the Kansas Democratic Party simply shows the lengths to which the supporters of the failed system will go. They want to avoid giving voters a real choice at all costs," Edelen said.
Will Lawrence, who works for Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a supporter of fellow Topeka Sen. Kelly, is Irigonegaray's client.
Documents submitted to the secretary of state allege seven counties failed to certify signatures in a timely manner and ought to be considered invalid. Orman submitted his petitions to the secretary of state Aug. 6, and the 10-day clock for county certification expired at the end of business Aug. 16. The certification responses by Barber, Ellis, Finney, Johnson, Marshall, Sedgwick and Shawnee counties missed that deadline, Irigonegaray said.
In all, this portion of the complaint seeks to invalidate 6,040 signatures. The majority of those tangled in the conflict were obtained in either Johnson County, with 2,769 signatures, or Sedgwick County, with 2,946 signatures. One of the seven counties in question, Finney, is the home of Orman's running mate for lieutenant governor, State Sen. John Doll, I-Garden City.
Irigonegaray's letter to the secretary of state raised a "possible troubling patter" of notaries improperly affixing their seal or otherwise handling petitions improperly.
In addition, the ballot challenge included questions about discarding 323 petition signatures collected by Kyler Winn, also known as Kyle Carriker, who was convicted in a drug deal that led to a deadly shooting in Wichita. He said Winn's petitions shouldn't be allowed because he was still on probation, and not an eligible voter or petition collector in Kansas.
Irigonegaray said one person who collected 1,004 signatures for Orman from July 25 to 31 would have needed to secure a signature every 4.5 minutes if working an 11-hour day with no breaks for those seven consecutive days.
"The statistic casts serious doubts as to the validity of his signatures, even more so when you consider that his petitions included signatures from 20 different counties," his complaint letter said.
Issues raised in the complaint would be handled by the State Objections Board. The panel consists of Kobach, Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann and Attorney General Derek Schmidt. Kobach is expected to recuse himself since he's a candidate for governor after narrowly defeating Gov. Jeff Colyer in the Aug. 7 primary.
The politics of the petition conflict pivots on differing perspectives about outcome of a race for governor among Orman, Kobach, Kelly, Libertarian Jeff Caldwell and independent Rick Kloos. Some believe Kobach gains an edge if voters are fractured among four other candidates. Others say removal of Orman would give Kelly a better shot at winning statewide in Kansas.
Bob Beatty, professor of political science at Washburn University in Topeka, said the petition complaint could be another lightning strike in an election cycle full of surprises. Odds are against success of the petition challenge of Orman, he said, but dislocation of the well-financed Orman, who also ran statewide in 2014, would dramatically alter the governor's race.
"Obviously," Beatty said, "that would be another earthquake in a Kansas election that's already had a couple."
He said the Democrats' tactic could be to engage in a long-shot bid to drop Orman from the ballot and set the stage for attacks on Orman by super PACs or outside groups in late stages of the election. The dispute can become fodder for commercials that raise issues of trust about Orman's campaign operation, he said.