• Sherman Smith, Kansas Reflector

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly claims victory over Republican challenger Derek Schmidt

Gov. Laura Kelly, flanked by family and Lt. Gov. David Toland, left, addresses supporters late Tuesday at her watch party in downtown Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

UPDATE: GOP gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt said on Thursday that, barring an unforeseen change in voting results, Gov. Laura Kelly has won in her bid for re-election.

TOPEKA — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly claimed victory Wednesday in her bid for reelection against Republican Derek Schmidt, who had not conceded.

Kelly leads by 14,000 votes with about 3,000 ballots remaining to be hand counted from three rural Kansas counties, up to 29,000 mail-in ballots that haven’t yet been returned, and an unknown number of provisional ballots to be considered.

The Kansas Secretary of State’s Office said it will provide updated numbers beginning at noon Wednesday.

The Associated Press had not called the race as of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, but several TV news networks projected Kelly had won. Organizations that endorsed Kelly began issuing celebratory statements.

In a statement Wednesday, Kelly said Kansans voted “for civility, for cooperation, for listening to one another, and for a spirit of bipartisan problem-solving that’s become all too rare in our politics today.”

Derek Schmidt addresses the crowd late Tuesday at the GOP watch party in Topeka. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kelly led Schmidt by 1.5 percentage points with a total of 479,875 votes to Schmidt’s 465,620. Independent state Sen. Dennis Pyle, a conservative candidate who challenged Schmidt’s Republican bonafides, appeared to be a decisive factor in the race by claiming 19,753 votes. Libertarian Seth Cordell received 10,659 votes.

Bryan Caskey, the state elections director, said there were 29,000 mail-in ballots that hadn’t yet been returned, but “not all of those are going to come in.”

Kansas law requires mail-in ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by Tuesday and received within three business days. Because Friday is a holiday, ballots will be accepted through Monday.

Caskey said there were about 1,000 ballots remaining to be hand counted in each of Ford, Montgomery and Saline counties. He cited mechanical problems, such as a machine unable to scan mail-in ballots with a creased fold, for the need to count by hand.

If the margin between Kelly and Schmidt were to tighten within a half a percentage point, either candidate could request a state-funded recount. Any of the four candidates on the ballot also could pay for a recount and dictate which areas would be recounted and whether the recount would have to be done by hand.

In a speech to supporters late Tuesday, Kelly said Kansans value character and hard work over political party or ideology.

“Kansans want to know who you’ll work with, not who you’ll work against,” Kelly said.

“Kansans embrace a proud tradition of neighbor helping neighbor in their own lives, and they expect their elected officials to carry that same spirit in their service to the state. I believe we have done that.”

This developing story will be updated.

This article was used by permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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