It took a week, but we now have a winner in the local Kansas House of Representatives race, barring a recount.
The Harvey County Board of Canvassers accepted 238 out of the 280 provisional ballots cast in the race for District 72, between Democrat and Incumbent Tim Hodge and Republican Challenger Steve Kelly.
Hodge clung to a 17 vote lead in the race coming into Tuesday and the provisional ballots that were accepted went 65 percentage points for incumbent Hodge, with Hodge receiving 157 votes to Kelly’s 81 votes.
That gives Hodge a 92 vote lead in the race, and brings the total vote count to 4,564 votes for Hodge and 4,472 votes for Steve Kelly. That would give Hodge a margin of a little under one percent of the approximately 9,300 ballots cast in the race in both Harvey and Butler County.
Seven provisional ballots still remain to be counted and accepted by the Butler County Board of Canvassers on Thursday.
Challenger Steve Kelly was present at the meeting. He declined to say if he would ask for a recount, but said he’d have an answer by Tuesday evening when Newton Now goes to press. An attorney with the Kansas Republican Party was present at the Canvassing meeting as well as Republican Speaker of the House Ron Rykman.
Baring a recount, the official canvass count would give Hodge another term serving as the Representative for House District 72 in the Kansas State House. The district serves North Newton, Newton as well as parts of rural Harvey County and the city of Whitewater.
Hodge said it came down to people believing that every vote counted.
“I feel humbled and thankful that our message got to the right people and they took it upon themselves to actually vote, because I heard a lot of folks out there that told me their vote didn’t matter and I argued with them and said yes it does. And eventually a lot of folks registered to vote.”
The count caps off what’s been a wild week from an extremely close race.
When polls closed on election night Hodge led by more than 20 percentage points from advanced votes that accounted for nearly 44 percent of all votes cast in the race. That lead evaporated as election day voting favored Kelly, who, with votes cast Nov. 6, pulled ahead of Hodge by 132 votes.
Following the routine hand count of ballots not counted by counting machines that total decreased down to 84 Nov. 7.
All the while hundreds of mail in ballots that voters had registered for had not been turned in.
225 Mail in ballots continued to come to the court house until Friday. As long as the ballots had a post mark verifying they were sent before Tuesday at 7 p.m. they were counted.
County Clerk Rick Piepho said Post Mistress Robin Gay was responsible for nine advanced ballots being counted, as she checked the post office’s drop off box and hand delivered the ballots to polling stations before 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Had she not done that, as the post office doesn’t provide time stamps on post marks, the ballots would have been invalid. Following the Friday count of those ballots Hodge picked up 101 votes in the race, putting him ahead 17 votes heading in to the official canvass.
The Board of County Commissioners approved all provisional ballots to be counted outside of those cast by people not registered to vote in Harvey County.
Of those provisional, the majority were cast by people who had applied for an advanced ballot but not turned them in or who had moved within the county and not changed their home address.
Total turnout for the election county wide was 62 percent, eight points higher than the 2014 midterm election.
Hodge said it was now time for him to prepare for the next session.
“We’re going to look at taking sales tax off of food,” he said. “I don’t intend to stop doing what I’ve told people I’d do. I told people we were going to stop Brownback’s tax plan and we did. We said we were going to get child care tax credits back and we did. Now that the budget is in better form, it’s time to give normal middle and working class people a break. I will always side with the normal everyday guy. I am something for everybody office holder not an everything for some people office holder.”
- North Newton Mayor Ron Braun set in for County Commissioner Chip Westfall on the board who recused himself as he was on the ballot.
- Piepho said the county has one of the highest registered voter totals he remembers.
- A full crowd watched the process in the Harvey County commission room, including representatives of both local races, parties as well as state party representatives. Hodge was not present for the count