In Kansas, Two Ron Estes Create Challenges for Election Officials

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There are always tons of weighty issues that create challenges for election officials, but sometimes the trickiest ones are the simplest and smallest – like how to handle the situation when two candidates in the same contest, one an incumbent, have the same name. That’s the case in Kansas, where two Congressional candidates named Ron Estes are generating controversy and forcing state election officials to go the extra mile to distinguish them. Kansas.com has more:

The Rep will stay on the ballot.

U.S. Congressman Ron Estes will be listed as “Rep. Ron Estes” on the Republican primary ballot in his race against Ron M. Estes — a first-time candidate of the same name — after a state board denied an objection against using the name.

Should Rep. Estes win the primary, the “Rep” will not appear on the general election ballot, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said.

The decision marked the latest development in the odd political drama that began when Ron M. Estes filed to run for Congress as the deadline to enter the race approached. This is his first run for office. He is a registered Republican but has donated to Democrats in the past.

The State Objections Board met Monday to consider a complaint against his candidacy brought by Laura Lombard, who is running for Congress as a Democrat. But the panel, consisting of Kobach and two proxies from the attorney general and lieutenant governor’s office, voted unanimously to dismiss the complaint. [NOTE: Not every objection is dismissed; dental hygeine enthusiast “Vermin Supreme” was not allowed to remain on the ballot for Attorney General due to residency issues.]

Lombard had called the use of “Rep” unnecessary and had expressed fear that should Rep. Estes win the primary, he would be listed as “Rep. Ron Estes” on the general election ballot, potentially giving him an advantage over the Democratic opponent.

“This is partisan politics and we kind of knew walking in the door the likelihood of a partisan panel of all three Republicans — particularly Kris Kobach being the person who made the decision in the first place — we knew the likelihood of a ‘no’ was imminent,” Lombard said.

The rare sight of candidates with the same name prompted Kobach to invoke a little-known law allowing candidates to use a prefix or suffix with their names on the ballot to avoid confusion. Rep. Estes chose to list his name as “Rep. Ron Estes.”

Ron M. Estes’ campaign has said Rep. Estes shouldn’t be able to use his title on the ballot and that listing him as “Ron G. Estes” would be sufficient. Absent that, the campaign wanted Ron M. Estes listed as “Real Ron Estes,” a label that also serves as his campaign moniker.

Ron M. Estes has not spoken to reporters but has been communicating through statements sent by a campaign email account that purports to be from him.

Neither Ron M. Estes nor anyone else spoke at the hearing.

An email purporting to be from Ron M. Estes sent after the board vote said Kobach “has decided to bolster one Republican over another” in the primary.

Ron M. Estes filed as “Ron M. Estes” and he has contended his middle initial should be enough to distinguish between the two candidates. His campaign has said he intentionally used his middle initial to make the difference clear.

But the members of the State Objections Board expressed concern that the middle initial alone would not be enough to stop confusion over which candidate is which.

“In fact when I heard ‘Ron M. Estes’ I think my first thought was, ‘Oh, that’s Congressman Estes.’ So I had no idea which one was G and which one was M and I consider myself reasonably attuned to the political events of the state,” Kobach said.

Rep. Estes hailed the board’s decision as helping voters avoid confusion created by a “sad attempt to mislead voters.” He also called on Democratic candidate James Thompson to return donations made by Ron M. Estes and said Democrats running in the district should condemn attempts to mislead voters.

“This imposter candidate has deliberately avoided media along with voters and Kansans deserve to know who is behind his campaign,” Rep. Estes said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Thompson didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Political maneuvering aside, this case illustrates how important ballot content – including candidates’ names – is to the voting process. I’ll be curious to see how local officials highlight the distinction in the run-up to the August 7 primary. Don’t look twice – and stay tuned …

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