DA charges Watkins with voter fraud

Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS)
Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS)(WIBW)
Published: Jul. 14, 2020 at 5:50 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins faces criminal charges he unlawfully voted in a Topeka City Council election, and lied to a detective investigating the case.

Shawnee Co. District Attorney Mike Kagay said Tuesday he filed four counts against Watkins: Interference with Law Enforcement, Providing False Information; Voting without being Qualified; Unlawful Advance Voting; and Failing to Notify the DMV of Change of Address. The first three are felonies, while the last is a misdemeanor. The charges of interference and unlawful advance voting carry sentences of 5 to 17 months in prison if convicted, while voting with being qualified carries a sentence of anywhere from 11 to 34 months.

According to the criminal complaint obtained by 13 NEWS, the interference charge alleges Watkins provided false information to a Shawnee Co. Sheriff’s detective in February 2020, ”intending to influence, impede or obstruct such officer’s or agency’s duty.” The criminal complaint outlines the two felony voting charges as relating to Watkins’ ballot in the fall 2019 Topeka City Council election. The misdemeanor alleges Watkins failed to notify the Motor Vehicle Dept. in writing within 10 days of changing his address.

In an interview with 13 NEWS, Watkins called the charges “hyper-political,” questioning the timing of the announcement - 45 minutes before the GOP candidates for the 2nd Congressional District candidates were due to meet in the debate. Watkins maintained he did nothing wrong.

But State Treasurer Jake LaTurner, one of Watkins’ challengers in the GOP primary, told 13 NEWS the alleged actions are exactly what Kansans do not need in Washington, and further harm the Republicans’ changes of keeping the seat in GOP hands.

The charges are related to the 2019 local elections. Watkins used a UPS store address on his registration. At the time, Watkins office said it was an honest mistake - that he used the store as a mailing address for his campaign. He later changed it to an apartment complex off SW Huntoon and Wanamaker in Topeka. The UPS Store and his apartment address are located in different Topeka City Council districts.

The charges follow an investigation by the Shawnee Co. Sheriff’s Office. Kagay said the allegations came to his attention in December 2019, but the investigation was delayed by the COVID-19 shutdown. As for Watkins’ allegations about the timing, Kagay said it was coincidental. He said he received the affidavit Tuesday, so he made his filing Tuesday.

Court records show the first court date in the case as December 3rd, which would put it after the election.

Watkins, a Republican, is in his first term. He faces primary challenges from LaTurner and former state and city official Dennis Taylor.

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