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O’Donnell opponent to remain on ballot in Sedgwick Co. commission race

Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 12:50 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - A Sedgwick County Commission candidate will stay on the ballot. Sarah Lopez is challenging current Commissioner Michael O’Donnell for his seat representing District 2.

GOP precinct committeeperson and radio host John Whitmer filed the objection last week against her candidacy, claiming she did not live in the district.

Whitmer said it was after other precinct officials expressed concerns.

“As recent as February of this year, she was still a Democrat committee person up in Kechi, and so they asked what’s the process, how do we file an objection, and I said I’d be happy to do that for you,” said Whitmer.

He added, “Making sure that if you want to represent as a particular part of this area, that you relate. That you live in that area. That you’re neighbors and you can represent them because you live with them and you’re familiar with them. That was just the key. They were very concerned, and as long as she’s been proven that she does live there, I trust the outcome of this investigation.”

These are an unusual occurrence in local politics, while they are more common in state-level races.

A three-person panel including Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett, Sheriff Jeff Easter and Deputy Election Commission Sandra Gritz found that objection was based on old information.

O’Donnell and Whitmer did not attend the Monday morning hearing.

Lopez said, “I had heard my opponent talk about that I didn’t live in the district and honestly just kind of blew it off just because I thought it was so ridiculous. It’s pretty obvious where I live.”

Lopez said she worked with investigators, including having them out to her house.

Investigators determined the home she has lived in since February is in the district she’s running to represent.

Bennett said, “I’ve not heard anything myself to suggest that we have evidence that Ms. Lopez was not and is not a resident of District II.”

Even though she moved into the home in southwest Wichita earlier this year, Lopez told investigators she lived in the district for several years prior before moving away for family reasons.

“It’s obvious that I live there; I have three kids. It would be very hard for me to pretend to live somewhere I don’t, and I only have one income, so I can’t afford multiple houses. It was a pretty open and shut case,” said Lopez.

Whitmer said, “I’m pleased that they put that much interest and investigation into it. That’s what we cared about was protecting the integrity of our election.”

Lopez said this action goes to show why she’s running and in this race.

“I think this is exactly what I’m talking about. At the end of the day, people are so sick and tired of the games. We should be able to rely on our local government to do what’s right for the people of our community.” Lopez said, “We’re not games. We’re people living here that need guidance from our leadership, but we’re not getting that because they’re taking their time doing this stuff.”

The panel also took the step Monday of issuing Whitmer a $175 fine, saying that due diligence was not taken before submitting the objection and to cover the investigative costs.

Bennett said, “When fees are associated with something that, in this case, was so unsighted, I don’t think that’s out of line.”

“I do worry if we did not pursue those fees that this could happen again and again and what would deter people from making these allegations next time,” said Lopez.

Even though to file for public office, a candidate needs to list a home address, Lopez said she’s now concerned some people will not accept this decision.

Lopez said, “I’m a single mom. I live at home with my three children, so it’s really kind of nerve-racking that so many people know my address, but maybe want to see if I actually live there and they’re going to drive by and what’s to say they’re not going to come up to my house. It’s a dangerous thing.”

Eyewitness News reached out to Michael O’Donnell for his response to the decision but has not returned requests for an interview.

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