© 2023 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Johnson County Sheriff defends election investigation after county lawyer raised concerns

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden says he won't require his employees to get tested or vaccinated, saying he prefers to leave such choices up to individuals.
Shawnee Mission Post
Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden is defending his office's investigation into the results of the 2020 presidential election.

A sheriff’s office news release defended Hayden’s use of staff time to check into unspecified claims about the election, saying the office is merely investigating the numerous tips that have come into the office since 2021 concerning election procedures.

A sheriff’s investigation into Johnson County’s election procedures was initiated because of more than 200 tips alleging fraud and was not an attempt to interfere with elections, Sheriff Calvin Hayden’s office said Tuesday.

A news release from the sheriff’s office defended Hayden’s use of staff time to check into unspecified claims about the election, saying the office is merely investigating the numerous tips that have come into the office since 2021 concerning election procedures.

“Anyone who suggests Sheriff Calvin Hayden initiated this investigation or wants to interfere with elections is woefully misinformed,” the release states.

In addition, the office’s statement takes issue with a letter recently made public about Hayden’s meeting earlier this month with county officials over election security.

In that meeting, described in an internal letter to Hayden written by the county’s chief legal counsel Peg Trent, Hayden reportedly asked for a bigger role for his office that could include picking up ballots from drop boxes and being present in the election office room where ballots are counted.

Trent also wrote in the letter that Hayden said he also had complaints or suggestions about drop box hours, enforcement of limits on ballots delivered on someone else’s behalf, and signature verification. Those suggestions and others were rebuffed.

In Tuesday’s statement, Hayden refuted Trent’s characterization and suggested she had violated state election law.

“I whole-heartedly disagree with Ms. Trent’s recollection of events, as does every deputy who was present for that meeting. Furthermore, Ms. Trent and her office are knowingly violating their own laws: K.S.A. 25-2437. We will continue to deal with Ms. Trent until we reach a successful conclusion and ensure all election laws are followed,” Hayden said in an emailed statement that accompanied the news release.

The citation refers to a Kansas law pertaining to restrictions on ballot collection and delivery, but it was not immediately clear what Hayden meant about how that section was being violated. Sheriff spokesperson Shelby Colburn declined to explain further on Tuesday night, saying the office is not releasing any more information.

Evan Johnson
Shawnee Mission Post
Johnson County poll workers check voters in during early voting Saturday for the August 2 primary.

Other county officials who were mentioned by name in Trent’s letter as attending the meeting — including Election Commissioner Fred Sherman, Assistant Election Commissioner Josh King and Assistant County Manager Joe Waters — have all vouched for the accuracy of Trent’s narrative of the July 5 meeting.

Hayden’s news release Tuesday was the sheriff’s first response to questions about the letter and progress of the months-old investigation since Trent’s letter became public. In Tuesday’s statement, Hayden said he was obligated to pursue the fraud allegations because of the number of tips from people who claimed to be witnesses or victims.

“It is the sheriff’s office’s statutory obligation to investigate any criminal claim that comes to our office and submit our findings to the District Attorney’s Office,” the release said. “To not follow through with an investigation would be a dereliction of duty.”

Hayden has been talking about allegations of election malfeasance since at least March, when he said he’d dedicated staff time to checking into numerous questions from the public about the integrity of the elections.

In ensuing months, he has continued to cast doubt in speeches to conservative groups telling one group that “corruption runs to the top” an, “Everything I’m looking at is not smelling right,” and, “We will fix this.”

But he has never offered specifics about the focus of the investigation, its timeline, progress or cost to the county. A recent open records request to his office for that information was denied because of the ongoing criminal investigation.

Hayden’s press release on Tuesday said putting the information out prematurely would “immediately compromise the integrity of the investigation and lose the trust of the citizens who bring allegations of criminal misconduct to our office.”

“This is a non-partisan issue,” the release continued. “Our citizens want to have and deserve to have, confidence in their local elections.”

Meanwhile, county officials including Sherman have stood by the integrity of the election. Trent’s letter echoed that, saying “The county, in turn through the election commissioner, will attend to its assigned roles and responsibilities and will continue to execute fair and impartial elections for county citizens.”

The ACLU of Kansas also reacted Monday to the disclosure of Hayden’s request for a bigger role in election security, saying it is “deeply troubled” by it. Some of Hayden’s suggestions would intimidate voters, the organization said. For instance, law enforcement presence at polling places is a form of voter intimidation prohibited by state law, the group said.

“His pursuit of a criminal investigation no one but himself seems to have asked for is cause for great concern, especially when it is accompanied by proposals that could violate state law and intimidate voters,” said the group’s statement.

This story was originally published in the Shawnee Mission Post.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Contact her at roxieham@gmail.com.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.