Four months after Ken Corbet narrowly unseated Ann Mah for the Kansas House 54th District seat, the race continues to reverberate through the halls of the Statehouse and a federal court. Before adjourning until May, the House and Senate passed a bill Friday barring disclosure of information about voters who cast provisional ballots — a bill largely inspired by Mah. Mah, a Democrat, found herself trailing the Republican Corbet by 27 votes out of more than 10,000 cast on election night last November. The race wasn’t over: 104 Shawnee County voters in her district had cast provisional ballots — ballots that had to be reviewed by county canvassers before they could be counted — and there were more 54th District provisional voters in Osage and Douglas Counties. With about 10 days before the canvass, Mah contacted county officials seeking the names of provisional voters so she could contact them. The question of whether she is allowed to do that led to a legal challenge in which Secretary of State Kris Kobach was front and center.
Provisional ballots were created by federal law in 2002 as part of the Help America Vote Act. Congress created the last-resort ballots after irregularities in Florida during the presidential election of 2000, when voters were reportedly turned away at the polls erroneously and had no recourse.
Potential voters may be forced to cast provisional ballots for a number of reasons, including if they show up at the wrong polling place or if records show they already voted by advance ballot. Last year a new reason was added to the list in Kansas, thanks to a law spearheaded by Kobach: voters who showed up to the polls without a valid photo ID were also relegated to a provisional ballot. Those ballots could only be counted if the voters in question produced a valid ID to their county elections officials prior to the canvass.