Meet the art teacher who may keep Chad Taylor's name on the Kansas ballot

Deena Horst was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 1994. She's primarily an art teacher by trade, residing in Salina, Kansas, where she's worked since 1968. She served in the House until 2010, and she's recently served as a member of the board of education.

In 1997, the Kansas legislature considered Senate Bill 145, which dealt with mundane election law matters. But on March 27, 1997, Ms. Horst made the following motion, which was adopted:

Committee report to SB 145 be adopted, also, on motion of Rep. Horst be amended on page 14, by striking all in lines 41, 42 and 43;
On page 15, by striking all in lines 1 through 22 and inserting:
"Sec. 10. K.S.A. 25-306b is hereby amended to read as follows: 25-306b.
(a) Except as provided by this section, no person who has been nominated by any means for any national, state, county or township office may cause such person's name to be withdrawn from nomination after the day of the primary election.
(b) Any person who has been nominated by any means whatsoever for any national, state, county or township office who declares that they are incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected may cause such person's name to be withdrawn from nomination by a request in writing, signed by the person and acknowledged before an officer qualified to take acknowledgments of deeds."


The final bill contains this language, and it's the one that's caused some dispute recently. Chad Taylor wants to withdraw from the race for United States Senate. He wrote a letter to Secretary of State Kris Kobach asking to withdraw, pursuant to Kansas Statute 25-306b(b). But he did not indicate that he was "incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected." The time for meeting this deadline passed, and the Mr. Kobach informed Mr. Taylor that he had failed to make a proper showing under the statute. Mr. Taylor sued (PDF).

Rick Hasen wonders whether the "Democracy Canon," a method of statutory interpretation that construes ambiguous statutes in favor of... well, in this case, in favor of the candidate's preference, would apply. Theoretically, doing so gives voters the "best" choice--the candidate who wants to withdraw and does not want to serve is able to get off the ballot, which maximizes the rights of the voter.

But one must overcome the hurdle as to whether Mr. Taylor is "incapable" of serving--that is, whether it's ambiguous that Mr. Taylor's sudden desire no longer to run for Senate means he is "incapable." He makes this point in his filing before the Kansas court, but there's good reason to think "incapable" means just that--not capable, not simply unwilling. (Further, I've written elsewhere that the Democracy Canon perhaps should carry less weight when construing statutes regarding candidate eligibility rather than whether to count a voter's cast ballot.)

And it's Ms. Horst's language, which struck "whatsoever" and added an ostensibly narrower provision, that may end up blocking Mr. Taylor's attempted withdrawal.

I emailed Ms. Horst but received no reply. Regardless, I think it would be of great interest to see if there's more to this story for this statute--a small amendment in 1997, uncontroversial at the time, that's now causing a lot of problems in a Kansas Senate race.