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KMUW News brings you the latest candidate information and resources on how to vote in the 2020 elections.

Mail-in Ballots Push Lopez Ahead Of O'Donnell For Now In County Commission Race

Fernando Salazar/For KMUW
Sarah Lopez, right, is consoled by Sedgwick County Commissioner Lacey Cruse on Election Night. Lopez trailed on Tuesday but unofficial results now have her in the lead.

When voting ended Tuesday night, Sarah Lopez – the Democratic challenger trying to unseat Michael O’Donnell from the Sedgwick County Commission – was losing by nearly 600 ballots.

But a wave of mail-in ballots has now vaulted Lopez into a 125-vote lead.

The Sedgwick County Election Office reported Friday evening that unofficial results showed Lopez with 16,237 votes in the 2nd District race and O’Donnell with 16,112.

Mail-in ballots postmarked Tuesday could be counted if they arrived before 5 p.m. Friday. Election officials say they had a record number of requests for mail-in ballots this year.

“Our campaign spent months encouraging voters to vote by mail,” Lopez said on a Facebook post Friday after the new figures were announced. “We are encouraged by the count we are seeing from advanced ballots.

“I want to thank everyone for their support this week! We're in a good position going into the weekend. This race isn't over until every vote is counted!”

Up next is the counting of more than 8,000 provisional ballots, which will begin next Friday. Not all of those ballots were cast in District 2.

The count needs to be completed and the vote certified by Monday, Nov. 16.

Voters can cast provisional ballots for several reasons, including if they received a mail-in ballot but decided to vote in person, or if they showed up at the wrong polling site. Those ballots are set aside and then examined individually to make certain they were cast correctly.

On election night, Lopez led in early returns but final unofficial results had O’Donnell leading 15,252 to 14,676. Local GOP officials said a large Republican turnout on Election Day bolstered O’Donnell’s tally.

But the county has added 2,449 mail-in ballots since Tuesday, and Lopez has won nearly 64% of those votes.

Lopez, who works for Ascension Via Christi, is making her first run at public office. O’Donnell, who defeated longtime incumbent Tim Norton in 2016, also has served stints on the Wichita City Council and in the Kansas Senate.

Just days before the election, O’Donnell said that he wouldn’t accept a second term if he won. He is embroiled in a political scandal for his involvement in a plot to blame others for a false campaign video last year accusing mayoral candidate Brandon Whipple of sexual harassment.

O’Donnell faces a defamation suit filed by Whipple and is under investigation by the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office. His colleagues on the Sedgwick County Commission voted last month to formally censure O’Donnell for his actions and called on him to resign.

By stepping down after he won, O’Donnell would have kept the seat in Republican hands. If O’Donnell does win, the county Republican Party will select his replacement.

Lacey Cruse is the only Democrat on the five-member commission. She upset an incumbent Republican in 2018 in her first race for public office.

County commissioners are elected to four-year terms and are the governing body for Sedgwick County, setting policy and budgets. They also serve as the county Board of Health, and in that role have been heavily involved in the county’s response to the pandemic.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is a board member of the Public Media Journalists Association, serving as small station representative, a volunteer coach for League 42 and an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.