TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court is considering whether the state's chief elections officer must fulfill a request from Democrats' nominee for the U.S. Senate to remove his name from the Nov. 4 election ballot. The legal dispute has national implications for the GOP drive to take the majority in the Senate.
Here are some questions and answers about the dispute:
Q: How did the case end up in court?
A: Some Democrats nudged party nominee Chad Taylor out of the race with three-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, expecting it to help independent candidate Greg Orman defeat Roberts. Taylor submitted a letter Sept. 3 to Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is a conservative Republican backing Roberts. Kobach said the letter wasn't sufficient under state law for Taylor to remove his name from the ballot. Taylor then petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse Kobach's decision.
Q: Why wasn't Taylor automatically off the ballot once he decided to drop out?
A: In 1997, the Legislature enacted a law designed to prevent both major parties from nominating "placeholder" candidates for office. Before that, the major parties regularly had people file with no intention of campaigning actively, but they would hold a spot on the general election ballot while party leaders found a stronger candidate. Then-Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh said the practice confused voters and sometimes created administrative headaches if the parties waited too long to name new candidates.
The law says nominees' names can be removed from the ballot if they die or if they declare they're incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected. They must submit a written request to withdraw, to the secretary of state in the case of a U.S. Senate race. Taylor's letter said he wanted to withdraw "pursuant to" the law, without saying specifically that he is incapable of serving.
Q: If helping Orman is the goal, why not just have Taylor stop campaigning and leave his name on the ballot?
A: Some Democrats hoping to boost Orman's chances of winning believe any Democrat on the ballot, even one who isn't campaigning, would draw enough votes away from Orman to jeopardize his chances.
Q: What happens after the Supreme Court rules?
A: If the court says Kobach is correct, Taylor's name stays on the ballot. If the court orders Kobach to remove Taylor's name from the ballot, the situation could be less clear.
Another law, says that when a vacancy occurs in a candidacy after a primary, it "shall be filled" by a party committee, and Kobach says Democrats would be required to pick a new candidate.
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon disagrees. If the court doesn't specifically settle the issue — and the justices didn't ask about it during their hearing Tuesday on Taylor's petition — Kobach said he's ready to petition the court to force Democrats to choose a new candidate.
Q: How much time is there to settle these issues?
A: Not much, according to both sides. State and federal law requires counties to start sending ballots to military personnel overseas within 45 days of the election, which means they must start sending them Saturday. Kobach has said counties can wait only until Friday — the day before the deadline — to print their ballots.
Q: Why is this important to the national election?
A: Kansas is a Republican-leaning state and until a few months ago, Roberts was expected to be re-elected. But the 78-year-old incumbent emerged weakened from a tough primary against a tea party foe and Roberts faced questions about whether he has a true residence in Kansas after nearly 34 years in Congress. When Democrats sensed that Roberts was vulnerable, some of them leaned on their own candidate to withdraw so that Orman would have a better chance. Orman has said that if he wins, he will caucus with whichever party has a majority, and if the Senate is closely divided, he could be a kingmaker.
The law on candidate withdrawals: http://bit.ly/1AaXMNw
The law on filling vacancies: http://bit.ly/1t9l8mA
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .