POLITICS
11/15/2012 05:03 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2012

Provisional Ballot Names Blocked In Kansas County

Hours after a federal judge granted access to the names of provisional voters in one Kansas case, a county election official ruled in another case that Democrats could not access the names of provisional voters.

Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman denied a request Wednesday by Democratic operative Casey Yingling to provide the names of the 6,400 voters in the county who cast provisional ballots in last week's election. Lehman emailed Yingling, who made the records request on behalf of Kansas legislative Democrats, saying the state's criminal code prohibits state officials from disclosing voter ballot information without a court order.

Lehman's email to Yingling came roughly two hours after a federal judge in Topeka ruled that state Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) and Kansas Democrats could have the names of the provisional voters in Mah's close race against Republican Ken Corbet, under the terms of the federal Help America Vote Act.

Lehman, an appointee of Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), wrote that she could not release the reasons the provisional ballots were cast since they had not been sorted in a way that would be conducive to getting the information. She also said Yingling's request placed an "undue burden" on her staff since the office was preparing for the official ballot canvass on Wednesday afternoon.

Lehman did not return messages left for comment at her Wichita office.

In the Mah case, a state judge ruled Wednesday that Mah, who was declared the winner, and Corbet could have access to the names of provisional voters in Shawnee County, which Kobach had objected to. Until Wednesday's hearing, Kobach had a temporary restraining order in place prohibiting Mah and Corbet from contacting the voters. Mah told HuffPost that she already had contacted several of the voters before the restraining order in place Monday and gave them information on how to ensure their ballots were counted. Wednesday's ruling was delivered verbally.

Kobach spokeswoman Kay Curtis said that Kobach did not provide any guidance to county election officials regarding the Yingling ruling since it was verbal. "It really didn't change the law or establish new law or anything like that," Curtis told HuffPost.

Curtis noted that Kobach's chief attorney provided guidance to county election officials last week, telling them that the names of provisional voters could not be released without judicial approval due to several state and federal laws. Kobach attorney Ryan Kriegshauser wrote that his interpretation of the state law barring disclosure of how a person voted included provisional voters. Kriegshauser also said that in election districts with few provisional ballots cast, disclosure of the names could make it easy to identify the voter.

Kriegshauser's full memo can be read here.

Erik Opsal, a spokesman for the Brennan Center for Justice, which has researched Help America Vote issues, said the center's attorneys determined that the release of provisional voter information is determined at the state level. He said several states have "very restrictive" rules.

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