Summer Re-Run: Shawnee, KS Special Election After Primary Mix-Up


[Image courtesy of emptyhousefullmind]

The #1 goal of any election official is a successful election. Human nature and the power of circumstance may make that difficult sometimes, but all of the planning and preparation that goes into Election Day always happens with the idea of perfection in mind.

But what happens when something goes REALLY wrong?

Shawnee County (Topeka), KS is finding out after discovering that voters in two precincts (which share a polling place) were given the incorrect ballot, clouding the outcome in a close GOP primary. According to Associated Press, a supervising judge at one polling place, which is divided by two state house districts, failed to follow training and, as a result, as many as 87 voters received the wrong ballot. The county can’t identify which voters were affected (due to secrecy of the ballot) – and the margin in one GOP primary race was just 41 votes – so the County Commission took the unusual step of ordering a special election in the affected polling place for the 432 voters who cast their ballots earlier this month.

As I noted back in February when discussing Indiana’s removal of former SoS Charlie White for a felony conviction, figuring out how to resolve election problems after the fact can be a difficult business.

Here, the county is faced with what amounts to a no-win choice: it can either allow the result to stand despite doubts about its validity or it can conduct a limited runoff that essentially gives a small handful of voters the opportunity to determine the outcome. While the latter (“do-over”) choice may seem attractive, it isn’t purely a do-over; the affected voters (and only the affected voters – no newcomers will be allowed to cast ballots) now have the benefit of a few more weeks to make up their minds. Moreover, voters who backed a candidate who finished third in the primary may now have the opportunity to choose the winner in what amounts to a runoff:

In the 52nd House District’s Republican primary, Shanti Gandhi, a Topeka physician had 1,487 votes, or 37 percent, to 1,446 votes, or 36 percent, for Dick Jones, a retired naval and U.S. State Department officer. The third candidate, attorney Scott Hesse, received 1,122 votes, or 27 percent.

Gandhi told the canvassers that a special election would be unfair because Hesse’s supporters — knowing now that he can’t win — can switch candidates.

It also isn’t entirely clear that the county has the power to order the special election:

State law says only that a county board of canvassers will do “what is necessary” to ensure an accurate vote count. Shawnee County Counselor Rich Eckert said his research showed that courts have ordered new elections in the past, but he couldn’t find an instance of county canvassers doing it. The State Board of Canvassers — the governor, the attorney general and secretary of state — must formally certify counties’ results, and Eckert said a court challenge is possible.

Regardless of the outcome, the GOP winner will lose valuable campaign and fundraising time before the November general election.

All of this because fewer than a hundred voters got the wrong ballot.

It’s no wonder election officials – regardless of party – always pray for a landslide on Election Day.

1 Comment on "Summer Re-Run: Shawnee, KS Special Election After Primary Mix-Up"

  1. David Kimball | August 15, 2012 at 9:37 am | Reply

    The same mishap occurred in the Missouri primary election last week. It is unclear what, if any, remedy will be applied. The story is here:

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