A federal judge in Kansas overruled Secretary of State Kris Kobach's objections Wednesday and will allow a Democratic state lawmaker and well-known Kobach foe to contact voters who cast provisional ballots in a close state legislative race.
U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled that Kobach, a Republican, cannot block state Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) and her Republican challenger, Ken Corbet, from calling 141 Shawnee County voters who cast provisional ballots in their still-undecided electoral contest. Marten said that although the federal Help America Vote Act prohibited the disclosure of how a person voted, Kobach was wrong to argue that the law blocked him from releasing the names of those who voted provisionally. Corbet currently leads Mah by 44 votes in the race.
Mah and Corbet had actually received the names of the provisional-ballot voters on Friday, but Kobach had won a temporary restraining order on Monday prohibiting the two candidates from contacting the voters pending Wednesday's hearing.
Mah told HuffPost that among the voters she had talked to before the restraining order, she found several who did not know they needed to visit the county elections office to show a voter ID before their provisional ballot would be counted.
"It's a good thing that third parties can get access," Mah said. "I found out from people that they did not know they had to do more. I saved at least half a dozen voters from not having their ballots cast."
Mah, the ranking minority member of the Kansas House Elections Committee, has been a vocal opponent of Kobach over the last two years, particularly on Kobach's push for voter ID requirements. Kobach's political action committee spent money to support Corbet in the race.
"Kris Kobach just spent more tax dollars trying to keep me out of office," Mah said of the court case. "It was obvious what he was up to. He did not show any interest in the issue until I asked. This time he tried to step in and stop it."
In August, Kobach's office did not provide Reno County election officials with advice on disclosing the names of those who cast provisional ballots in a contested Democratic primary for a state House seat, the Associated Press reported. But last week, Kobach spokeswoman Kay Curtis told HuffPost that provisional-ballot names could not be disclosed with regards to questions raised in Sedgwick County, where Wichita is located.
Curtis said Wednesday that Kobach was making a presentation to the state's county clerk and was not immediately available for comment.
State Democratic Party spokesman Dakota Loomis said the ruling sets an important precedent. "We will have a precedent for any candidate, Republican or Democrat, to get the provisional ballot names," he said. "It is a victory for transparency and a fair electoral process and making sure everyone's vote is counted."
The court ruling comes as Kobach has been criticized for his office's oversight of vote counting in Sedgwick County. Tabitha Lehman, the county elections commissioner and a Kobach appointee, has been hit for delays in vote totals being released on election night and accused of blocking people from watching a paper-ballot count. Lehman blamed a software issue for the vote count delays and insisted that she allowed observers to watch the ballot count.
Kobach is the second Republican secretary of state nationally to have a provisional-ballot decision overturned by a federal court. On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) may not block the counting of provisional ballots on which voters did not fill out certain identification information. The judge said that Ohio law placed responsibility for the ID section on poll workers, not voters.
Although Mah does not expect the final count to give her a victory over Corbet, she said she is celebrating her win over Kobach.
"The odds are very, very slim for me to win," Mah said. "I am glad I went through the process and stood up for myself against the secretary."