TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will send voters living overseas a ballot for the November election with no Democratic candidate for a U.S. Senate race that has unexpectedly become one of the most hotly-contested in the nation.
But Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Friday he is not abandoning efforts to get Democrats to name a replacement candidate for Chad Taylor. The Democrat dropped out of the race earlier this month, giving independent Greg Orman a better shot at defeating three-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.
Republicans are in the odd position of pushing Democrats to have a candidate. Many Democrats don't want a nominee because they see Orman as the strongest rival to Roberts and don't want to split the anti-Roberts vote. The state Supreme Court stepped in once and is being asked to do so again.
The race in Kansas vaulted to the top tier in the national fight over control of the Senate after Roberts emerged vulnerable from a nasty primary in August. Kansas is a Republican-leaning state, but Orman, a 45-year-old Olathe businessman, is leading or close behind the 78-year-old Roberts in some recent opinion polls.
Even as Kobach directed counties to mail out overseas ballots by Saturday, he continued to argue that state law requires Democrats to pick a new candidate. The law says when a candidate vacancy occurs, it "shall" be filled by a party committee.
"Nothing has changed," said Kobach, a conservative Republican who is supporting Roberts.
The dispute over the Kansas ballot erupted earlier this month when Taylor stopped campaigning and sent a letter to Kobach's office to withdraw. Kobach said the letter wasn't detailed enough to comply with state law, but the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that it was sufficient and ordered Taylor's name removed.
Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney who represented Taylor, said the law Kobach cites in pushing Democrats to name a replacement does not require every vacancy to be filled.
"I believe that what Mr. Kobach is saying is a perversion of the statute," Irigonegary said. "How can a secretary of state compel a candidate to run? That's ludicrous."
That issue is before the Supreme Court because of a petition filed by a Democratic voter from Kansas City asking the justices to force Democrats to pick a new candidate. The petition was filed minutes after Thursday's Supreme Court ruling, and the voter's son works for GOP Gov. Sam Brownback's re-election campaign.
Kobach announced Thursday that he was having counties postpone the mailing of overseas ballots by a week to give Democrats time to pick a new nominee.
But Kobach's office sent them a memo Friday directing them to meet the Saturday deadline, saying he had concluded the move was "most prudent." Each ballot will come with a disclaimer telling voters they may get a second ballot later if Democrats name a new candidate.
The disclaimer says that if Democrats pick a new candidate only the second ballot will count. Those voters will also be able to submit their ballots after the Nov. 4 election.
Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew, a Democrat, said he and other county elections officials are worried about potential voter confusion.
Kobach noted that most of the state's 800,000 to a 1 million ballots won't be printed until later.
Kansas Supreme Court site for the ballot dispute: http://bit.ly/1BHgcrY
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .