While most primary election races ended with clear winners and losers, one race in McPherson County is still too close to call.

While most primary election races ended with clear winners and losers, one race in McPherson County is still too close to call.

Sheriff Larry Powell and McPherson police Lt. Jerry Montagne, both candidates for the McPherson County Sheriff position, were within 13 votes of one another at the end of Tuesday's election night. Because the county still has 77 provisional ballots to count, a winner cannot be declared until Thursday.

So what is a provisional ballot, and why does it take so long to count them?

Provisional ballots are a safeguard against voter fraud that still allows everyone a chance to vote. If a person arrives at their polling place, and election officials determine he or she may be ineligible to vote, the person is given a provisional ballot. This ballot allows the person to vote on election day, while also allowing election officials to determine eligibility and weed out fraudulent voting.

Part of the reason the sheriff's race has yet to be decided is so that employees at the County Clerk's Office have time to verify the eligibility of these ballots.

"We want to make sure every vote that can be counted, is counted," said Veanne Depperschmidt, an employee with the McPherson County Clerk's office.

Kansas state law determines the circumstances that might trigger a provisional ballot. The reasons range from an unreported address change or an inability to present proper identification at the polls, to a person who attempted to vote in the wrong party's election.

Those who are given provisional ballots vote normally, and their votes are sealed until the county clerk's office can verify whether the person is eligible to vote.

"In McPherson County, we had some individuals who hadn't updated their address, so their names didn't show up in the books," Depperschmidt said. "We even had some individuals who live outside the county. Those votes won't count because they don't live here."

In the case of an out-of-date address, Depperschmidt said the provisional ballot includes instructions to update the address, essentially allowing the voter to re-register with the correct address. As long as the person was previously registered to vote in Kansas, filling out this form is sufficient to prove eligibility, and the vote will be counted.

If a person is unable to show proper identification, he or she can bring ID to the County Clerk's office before canvassing, which will take place at 9 a.m. Thursday. Doing so will prove eligibility and ensure the vote is counted.

Depperschmidt said during primary elections, a provisional ballot is issued when a person attempts to vote on the wrong party's ballot. For instance, if a voter who has registered as a Libertarian attempts to vote on a Republican or Democrat ballot, his or her vote will not count because voters must vote in their own party's primary elections.

Unaffiliated voters, she said, can choose a party to vote with when they arrive to cast their ballots.

The County Clerk's office is tasked with examining provisional ballots to see if voters are eligible to vote or not. This is verified during canvassing, when county commissioners double-check the County Clerk's office's rulings and finalize county vote totals.

Kansas state law states that canvassing must take place by Thursday. This window allows county clerks time to organize and present the results.

Depeprschmidt said County Clerk Cathy Schmidt picked Thursday as the day for canvassing a month ago, before it became clear the sheriff's race would be so close. The McPherson County Clerk's office will use the extra days to verify provisional ballot eligibility.

"It's difficult for us to try and do all that the next day," she said. "We want to go through the process thoroughly, because it's important to get it right."

After Thursday's canvassing is complete, final results will be released — and McPherson County will find out whether Powell or Montagne will continue to the general election.