Sheriff’s Election Fraud Probe Divides Johnson County, Kansas | EUROtoday

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In November, Calvin Hayden spoke to a fringe gathering of “America First” conservatives at a church in Kansas City. He advised the group at Hope Family Fellowship Church that they had been in the course of a battle between good and evil, that the Apple brand reminded him of Eve consuming forbidden fruit, and that “a lot of the LGBT stuff and questioning the gender” may actually be a Communist Chinese plot to “demasculinize our men and our warriors.”

Others on the lineup that day included Father James Altman, who had referred to as for Pope Francis’ loss of life two months prior, and Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s former nationwide safety adviser and pardon recipient, who the next month would inform Alex Jones, “We’re moving towards the sound of the guns here, folks, and the sound of the guns is freedom.”

Hayden was a little bit of a luminary himself: He is the sheriff of Johnson County, Kansas, probably the most populous county within the state, together with Olathe and lots of the Kansas City suburbs. An elected Republican, Hayden is accountable for a division of practically 500 deputies, two jails and against the law lab. And for years, he’s pursued a secretive, taxpayer-funded investigation of the 2020 election ends in his county, which flipped Johnson County from Trump to Biden.

Hayden is tight-lipped with the media and defensive with different authorities officers about his probe, however he’s often blissful to inform right-wing audiences about his work, as he did in his November speech, revealing that his workplace was trying right into a tech contractor that Hayden mentioned he’d heard had labored to “flip” giant counties’ votes throughout the nation.

“I don’t know that we can win an election anymore!” he mentioned, including later that he couldn’t say whether or not “our elections are safe.”

For years, the sheriff has operated like this, dribbling out loaded rhetoric about Johnson County’s elections with out really updating the general public on his findings. Later that day, responding to a query from the viewers, Flynn instructed that Hayden “ought to go arrest those people” on the Johnson County elections workplace in the event that they impeded his investigation.

But Hayden could have miscalculated. After operating unopposed for reelection in 2020, the sheriff’s wandering election probe has earned him some distinguished critics all through Kansas, and two challengers for the sheriff’s workplace.

Things actually began to collapse earlier this month. Weeks after claiming he’d had a warrant “in hand” to grab the county’s ballots for his investigation, Hayden acknowledged publicly that the supposed warrant wasn’t really legitimate — no choose had signed it, regardless of each implication in any other case.

That admission drew condemnation from throughout Johnson County and the state. The Kansas City Star reported flatly that the county’s sheriff had “lied.” Mike Kuckelman, the previous Kansas GOP chair, urged Johnson County’s undersheriff to report the sheriff to the district legal professional and a statewide requirements physique. Byron Roberson, a Democratic native police chief who’s operating for sheriff this November, advised HuffPost that Hayden’s stunt was an “extremely dangerous practice.” And Doug Bedford, a Republican and Hayden’s former second in command — and his present Republican Party major challenger — ramped up his criticisms of Hayden in an interview final week.

“The sheriff is expected to execute the duties of the office with integrity [and] competence … If this isn’t taking place, I think that that is a threat to public safety,” Bedford advised HuffPost, including that he was “very disappointed” in his former boss.

“Everything indicates that he was untruthful,” Bedford mentioned.

Down The Rabbit Hole

To hear Hayden inform it, his curiosity in elections is the results of a deep dive down the conspiratorial rabbit holes pushed by Donald Trump supporters after Trump’s 2020 loss.

Speaking to a fringe regulation enforcement group in July 2022, Hayden mentioned he initially “didn’t know anything about elections,” and that he first heard rumblings concerning the integrity of his county’s vote throughout conferences with Johnson County residents involved about potential COVID-19 vaccine necessities. (Hayden in 2021 made a degree of asserting he wouldn’t require sheriff’s deputies to be vaccinated for COVID.)

“In these meetings, these people started talking about the election issues, and I thought, ‘Yeah, OK,’ because I always took for granted the elections were OK,” Hayden recalled to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which promotes the perception that sheriffs have the authority and obligation to disregard state and federal legal guidelines they deem unconstitutional.

“Then the presidential election came and there was this big overturn,” Hayden mentioned. Separately throughout the occasion, Hayden and several other different sheriffs sat onstage below a projection that learn “Election Fraud HAS HAPPENED.”

Local media picked up the sheriff’s speech, and the Star’s editorial board referred to as for his resignation, calling him “a threat to the rule of law.”

In a press release to KCTV per week after the speech, Hayden’s workplace referred to as the Constitutional Sheriffs’ occasion “a non-partisan panel to answer concerns about election fraud,” though practically the complete occasion was devoted to the lie that the 2020 election had been stolen from Trump.

Per week after the occasion, Hayden’s workplace claimed in a assertion that because the fall of 2021, the workplace had obtained “more than 200 tips alleging fraud in our local elections.” This, too, turned out to be actually unbelievable: Midwest Newsroom filed a information request for reviews of any election-related crimes since 2020, and obtained just one doc, which had not been turned over to the district legal professional.

Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican, additionally referred to as foul on the “200 tips” declare: “We got about 12,” he advised KSHB. “That 200 seems like a big number, because we didn’t see those 200. I know Attorney General Schmidt hasn’t shared anything of that size of a number either.”

Indeed, there’s little proof of any issues in Kansas elections. After Kansas voters overwhelmingly voted to maintain abortion protections within the state structure in August 2022, a hand recount that very same month of 9 counties — together with Johnson — lowered the pro-choice facet’s margin of victory by simply 63 votes, out of 556,364 recounted ballots. In Johnson County, the margin modified by simply two votes. (Hayden expressed suspicion of the recount outcomes as a result of Johnson County authorities staff participated within the recount, and he mentioned they’re “surviving on government.”)

A database of election crimes maintained by the right-wing Heritage Foundation lists only one case since 2019. Steve Watkins, a former Republican congressman from the state, confronted three felony expenses associated to voting within the incorrect district in a Topeka metropolis council race, and subsequently mendacity to a detective about it. Watkins entered right into a diversion settlement to keep away from trial, and is now again in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist. More lately, a Florida man was arrested in February for allegedly forging signatures on petition sheets used to qualify the group No Labels as an official political get together in Kansas. (No Labels nonetheless in the end had sufficient signatures to qualify as a political get together, even with out the solid signatures.)

Nevertheless, because the begin of his probe, Hayden has developed a behavior of talking in alarmist language concerning the supposed rot on the core of Johnson County’s elections.

On March 1, 2022, when the Star and the Shawnee Mission Post first reported on his investigation, Hayden advised the Star, “It’s still a pending investigation, but I can tell you we have found some things and some numbers; part of them are a mathematical impossibility.” He declined to enter specifics.

“We think there’s been some shenanigans going on with the election,” he advised the Northeast Johnson County Conservatives a couple of months later, in May, earlier than an airing of “2000 Mules,” the conspiracy principle movie that, utterly devoid of any proof, asserted an enormous ballot-tracking operation stole the election from Donald Trump in 2020. Hayden mentioned he’d assigned detectives to research. “We look at the polls, we look at the numbers, and they just don’t match up,” he mentioned. “I don’t know how a guy in his basement won the largest amount of votes in the history of anywhere.”

After the CSPOA occasion, Hayden advised The New York Times he was trying into “ballot stuffing,” “machines” and “all of the issues you hear of nationally.” Two months later, he mentioned he believed election machines had been programmed by “foreign entities, and they’re manipulating the vote how they want to.” As proof, he mentioned he’d seen graphs of “rigged” elections, which confirmed “convoluted” strains. Pressed by somebody within the room for particulars, the sheriff mentioned, “they call it fractional voting,” a reference to the conspiracy principle that election machines throughout the nation gave Trump and others a fraction of every entire vote they obtained.

On a number of events, he’s mentioned an unnamed “they” need the subsequent technology of Johnson County residents to dwell in condominium buildings slightly than changing into householders. “They’re taking our kids’ dreams, and our kids want a piece of the world,” he advised one gathering in September 2022. Later within the occasion, he described being on a aircraft with a number of immigrants that he mentioned had simply arrived on the Southern border, speculating that they’d use public help playing cards and Kansas’ on-line voter registration system to vote illegally.

“They want everybody that they can get in the door to vote,” Hayden mentioned. “They don’t care if they can speak English, anything, they want the vote.”

“We look at the polls, we look at the numbers, and they just don’t match up. I don’t know how a guy in his basement won the largest amount of votes in the history of anywhere.”

– Johnson County, Kansas Sheriff Calvin Hayden

It’s true that Hayden’s jurisdiction has gone by way of a metamorphosis throughout his tenure. Johnson County, like different suburban counties outdoors rising metropolitan areas across the United States, has gotten extra populated, extra numerous, and extra Democratic since Hayden first turned sheriff in 2017, and positively since he first joined the drive in 1981.

Between 2010 and 2020, Johnson County added 65,684 residents, marking probably the most development in the complete Kansas City area, in response to a report from the Mid-America Regional Council. People of colour made up 92% of the area’s inhabitants development throughout that interval, in response to the identical report. And since 2005, the GOP share of voter registrations has fallen practically 10% in Johnson County, whereas there was a 41% rise in registered Democrats between 2016 and 2020 alone.

In 2018, Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) unseated the four-term Republican congressman Kevin Yoder to characterize the county to grow to be one of many first two Native American congresswomen, together with Deb Halaand, who’s since grow to be Interior Secretary. Davids is presently on monitor for a fourth time period. The county has additionally shaped the inspiration of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s two phrases in workplace.

Mark Johnson, an election lawyer and regulation professor who’s represented a number of candidates operating within the county, advised HuffPost that the northeast quadrant of the county, the world bordering Kansas City and the Kansas-Missouri border, “has gone in the past 25 years from staunchly Republican to staunchly Democrat.” The identical space may in the end be chargeable for breaking Republicans’ decade-old supermajorities within the Kansas legislature this yr, he mentioned.

Trump hasn’t helped. In each 2016 and 2020, he underperformed Republican presidential nominees within the county at the least way back to George W. Bush, in response to a preliminary Kansas City Star evaluation; Joe Biden, in the meantime, earned practically 7% extra of the vote within the county than Hillary Clinton. Trump’s loss in 2020 was the primary time in over 100 years {that a} Republican hasn’t carried the county, a truth Hayden identified in his speech in Las Vegas.

Still, even the sheriff acknowledged the political actuality on the bottom.

“A lot of people are coming to move here. We get about 10,000 a year moving to Johnson County, but they’re bringing some of their politics from the crummy places they live to my county,” he mentioned. “And it’s not fun.”

County Colleagues Push Back

Before lengthy, different county officers grew alarmed at Hayden’s sudden curiosity in elections.

In July 2022, a pair days after Hayden and several other deputies held a gathering with county election employees, the county’s chief counsel, Peg Trent, wrote an alarmed letter to the sheriff, memorializing the assembly and what she mentioned had been a number of regarding requests that may make it look as if “the Sheriff’s office is attempting to interfere with an election and to direct a duly authorized election official as to how an election will be conducted.”

During the assembly, in response to Trent’s letter, Hayden questioned why poll drop bins had been positioned at libraries, and whether or not the county’s election commissioner, Fred Sherman, would eradicate drop bins. Hayden additionally reportedly supplied to have sheriff’s workplace employees drive unmarked autos to select up ballots from drop bins, and instructed the ballots be counted on the drop field websites. According to Trent, a Hayden staffer additionally requested that sheriff’s deputies be current to look at the counting of ballots, and Hayden famous that the election workplace’s signature verification course of “is not done in compliance with how the Sheriff’s Office conducts investigations for criminal matters.”

Hayden’s workplace denied Trent’s characterization of the assembly — a spokesperson mentioned “we have no intention of asserting ourselves into any election” — however the letter made nationwide information, and introduced the simmering tensions between Hayden and different county officers into the highlight.

Just a few days after the assembly, and proper after Hayden’s speech in Las Vegas, Sherman, the election commissioner, responded to Hayden’s remarks on Twitter: “I stand by the integrity and accuracy of Johnson County, KS elections,” he wrote.

But slightly than taking the pushback to coronary heart, Hayden elevated the meat. In statements to information retailers, Hayden accused Trent “and her office” of knowingly violating the Kansas regulation governing how ballots could be returned on behalf of others. Hayden supplied no rationalization of how Trent might need damaged the regulation, and there’s no indication he introduced the alleged wrongdoing to the district legal professional’s workplace. Rather, the sheriff merely mentioned he would “continue to deal with Ms. Trent until we reach a successful conclusion and ensure all election laws are followed.”

That wouldn’t be the final time the county’s prime cop would accuse different public officers of breaking the regulation. Testifying earlier than the Kansas Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee in March 2023, Hayden alleged that his workplace had uncovered “willful violations” of the regulation by each Schwab, the secretary of state, and Sherman, the county election commissioner. Hayden claimed he’d alerted District Attorney Steve Howe of his findings, however complained that there weren’t legal penalties for the unspecified violations he’d uncovered.

But a easy information request, but once more, belied his declare. When the Johnson County Post requested for related information, it obtained just one file of an elections-related case referred from Hayden to the district legal professional — an allegation of voter intimidation, for which there was “no evidence supporting charges,” Howe later mentioned. “Sheriff Hayden’s statements consistently lack merit. This multi-year investigation ― at taxpayer expense― has produced no evidence of foul play in Kansas’ elections,” a spokesperson for Schwab mentioned on the time. Last week, a spokesperson for Johnson County declined HuffPost’s request for remark.

Legislators who heard Hayden’s testimony had been equally cautious.

State Rep. Pat Proctor, a Republican who chairs the chamber’s elections committee, famous most election crimes had been already felonies, the Star reported.

“I mean, what is he looking for, crucifixion?” Proctor mentioned.

Battle Over Ballots

The most contentious struggle in Hayden’s investigation, by far, has been over entry to the county’s ballots.

Under Kansas regulation, previous ballots are presupposed to be destroyed after six months for native elections, and 22 months for state and nationwide elections. But all through his investigation, Hayden repeatedly pushed the county to protect ballots, dangling the potential for a significant breakthrough. Still, even after months of speak, Hayden acknowledged in September 2022 that he didn’t have the products.

“I’ve got to have enough probable cause for a warrant … I’m getting close, I’m getting really close,” he mentioned, earlier than telling his viewers he was “about two months away from having this thing solved.” But he wasn’t. For greater than a yr, the investigation continued with none public progress.

By late 2023, the secretary of state’s workplace had taken discover, encouraging Johnson County to comply with the regulation “in time to focus on the March 19th Presidential Preference Primary,” a spokesperson for Schwab advised HuffPost in an electronic mail. The county reached out to the sheriff’s workplace, asking concerning the standing of the investigation. A detective responded, saying “potential evidence for this investigation should not be destroyed,” however no warrant ever materialized. The county appointed bipartisan observers for the poll destruction.

Then, the battle escalated: Kris Kobach, Kansas’ legal professional basic — and a voter fraud alarmist who backed Trump’s lie that thousands and thousands of unlawful votes had been solid in 2016 — wrote to the county, urging them to protect the ballots. A county commissioner and state senator sympathetic to Hayden wrote to Kobach, asking for formal opinions on whether or not the county even had the authorized authority to destroy the ballots. Trent adopted up together with her personal letter to Kobach, saying the formal opinion course of was being “inappropriately utilized for potential criminal prosecution of the Johnson County Election Commissioner.” Kobach hasn’t but issued an opinion, and his workplace didn’t reply to written questions. Still, the sheriff didn’t produce a warrant.

In February, Johnson County lastly destroyed the ballots. Only then did Hayden make his first declare a few warrant, at an April candidate’s discussion board hosted by the Johnson County GOP.

“As we stand here today, we had a search warrant in hand and had talked with the district attorney, and we were working on getting the documents needed when they decided in a hurry to destroy the records,” he mentioned, the Johnson County Post reported.

The district legal professional’s workplace contradicted the sheriff inside a couple of days, saying it was “unaware of any search warrant being submitted to a judge for review.” Then, this month, Kuckelman, the previous state GOP chair, confronted Hayden about his declare. Video posted on Facebook confirmed a clip of the change, which came about at a candidate’s discussion board in Olathe. Hayden waved a chunk of paper within the air and spoke angrily at Kuckelman.

“You can read that, can’t you?” Hayden mentioned to Kuckelman, complaining about being accused of wrongdoing. “[District Attorney] Steve Howe was with me, and five of my officers were,” Hayden mentioned, with out specifying what he meant.

“Which judge signed it?” Kuckelman requested of the doc.

“There’s no judge,” the sheriff replied.

“No judge? A judge has to sign a search warrant to be valid,” Kuckelman shot again.

“I didn’t say it was valid!” Hayden mentioned, as organizers scrambled to intervene.

At the Johnson County Election Office, Al Sneller, an employee in the warehouse, moves dozens of boxes into storage that contain ballots, documents and other paperwork from the 2020 general and primary elections, and the Aug. 2, 2022 primary election.
At the Johnson County Election Office, Al Sneller, an worker within the warehouse, strikes dozens of bins into storage that comprise ballots, paperwork and different paperwork from the 2020 basic and first elections, and the Aug. 2, 2022 major election.

Kansas City Star by way of Getty Images

The Fallout

Looking again over the previous three years of the sheriff’s investigation, Mike Kelly — who was elected chair of the county fee in November 2022, and who was a critic of Hayden’s even earlier than that — confused simply how little Hayden appears to have to indicate for his work.

“We’re no further along now than we were then — and that’s because there isn’t anything there,” Kelly mentioned. “We try always to be respectful of law enforcement, and everyone who wants to serve. But this whole process has been a huge disservice, especially to all the frontline men and women, when an elected official would degrade the important work they do by continuing on this process without any results for years. It’s become more a stage for, frankly, political theater than it has been for any real investigation.”

Kelly recalled a June 2023 county fee assembly the place Hayden mentioned he’d assigned two detectives to the investigation who “also work cold cases.”

“It’s never moved forward with any evidence of impropriety,” Kelly mentioned.

Both of Hayden’s challengers for the sheriff’s workplace agreed it was uncommon for an investigation like Hayden’s to go on for thus lengthy with none substantive updates. And each mentioned that, in response to what they’ve seen, Johnson County’s elections are reliable.

Roberson, the Democrat and present chief of the Prairie Village Police Department, mentioned the dearth of any concrete info from Hayden’s investigation made it really feel extra like a posh drug- or human-trafficking probe.

“This is not the case here,” he mentioned. “It’s very unusual that no information is being disseminated about the investigation, where it’s at, or the allegations that have come out that aren’t substantiated.”

Bedford famous Hayden’s ever-shifting rhetoric on the probe: “The statements changed all the time, and that’s what I couldn’t understand. If something is there, tell us something’s there.”

Hayden didn’t reply to HuffPost’s repeated requests for remark.

But he’s not alone in leveraging his sheriff’s workplace to pursue election-related expenses. In 2021, Christopher Schmaling, the sheriff of Racine County, Wisconsin, referred suggestions for legal expenses towards 5 members of the state’s election fee, over their selections concerning nursing residence voting procedures throughout the pandemic. Racine’s district legal professional declined to pursue expenses.

And Dar Leaf, the sheriff of Barry County, Michigan, despatched a deputy and a non-public investigator from city to city that yr, attempting to dig up info on the election. There have been a number of expenses filed in Michigan — however none ensuing from Leaf’s investigation. Rather, Leaf’s former legal professional and a handful of others, together with the previous Republican nominee for Michigan legal professional basic, presently face expenses associated to improperly accessing voting machines.

Both Leaf and Schmaling attended the 2022 constitutional sheriffs occasion alongside Hayden.

It isn’t clear whether or not the median Johnson County voter helps Hayden’s work, although one county survey launched in March assessed that the sheriff’s workplace was the “top priority for improvement” within the county, on condition that solely 53% of respondents expressed satisfaction with the workplace — down a couple of factors from 2020 — whereas practically one-fourth of respondents mentioned the workplace was one of the vital essential providers the county supplied.

Still, simply because the nationwide Republican Party has moved to the correct throughout the Trump Era, so have Kansas Republicans. In February final yr, 90 out of 179 delegates narrowly elected an election conspiracy theorist, Mike Brown, to guide the state GOP.

The identical shift occurred in Johnson County. When the primary reviews emerged in March 2022 of Hayden’s probe, the then-county GOP chair, Marisel Watson, mentioned in a press release, “The official position of the Johnson County Republican Party Leadership is that the election in our country is secured. We trust in the work of election workers, the election commissioner, and the Secretary of State.”

It’s not clear that’s the case. Now, below new management, the Johnson County Republican Party’s social media channels are dotted with election conspiracy theories and different tradition battle chum.

In March, the get together posted a video on X of Melissa Leavitt, an activist in western Kansas who fundraised for the recount of the abortion vote regardless of the pro-choice possibility successful by 165,000 votes. In the video, Leavitt urged viewers to strain legislators to help a wide-ranging invoice that may, amongst different issues, require a hand depend of Kansas’ a whole lot of hundreds of ballots each election, eradicate using distant drop bins by counties, and finish a three-day grace interval for accepting mail-in ballots.

“This is the top thing in our nation right now,” Leavitt mentioned. “How do you think we ended up with this crisis? It didn’t come from fair and free and true and fraud-less elections, I’ll tell you that.”