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Amid his own fraud investigation, Johnson County sheriff caught telling poll worker to ‘be slippery’

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
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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.

Calvin Hayden's office says it's still conducting a months-long investigation into 2020 and 2021 election results in Johnson County, despite a lack of evidence. “I’m really making them mad and I don’t care,” he said of other county officials.

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden says he does not want private citizens to do anything illegal in service to his ongoing investigation into recent election results in the county.

Hayden made that clarification recently after a video emerged of him speaking last month with a group of supporters at his office in which he tells a woman who asked if she could take pictures of things she deems suspicious as she works at the polls to be “slippery” about it.

Such an action could run afoul of a state law that makes it a felony to intentionally disclose ballot information.

In the video, which was recorded Aug. 30 and posted to the website Rumble, the woman asks Hayden if, as a poll worker, she can take pictures and send them to Hayden.

“Be slippery about it if you do it,” he responds, prompting laughter in the room.

After the laughter dies down, Hayden adds: “You can take a picture of your own ballot. I know that. But everything else, they get all touchy and crazy if they catch you doing it.”

Election investigation

The video and the meeting it was recorded at come as Hayden continues a months-long investigation into 2020 and 2021 election results in Johnson County.

The investigation has gone on since the fall of 2021, and Hayden has mentioned it in some appearances before right-wing groups like the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group that espouses the view that a sheriff’s authority within their county supersedes that of all other government agents or elected officials at any level.

So far, only one election-related offense report has been filed, according to records returned by the sheriff’s office following an open records request.

County and state election officials have continued to stand by the integrity of their election procedures and the validity of recent election results.

Hayden has often mentioned voting drop boxes as a source of concern but said in the Aug. 30 meeting that his office’s surveillance of them did not turn up any instances of people dropping off more than the ten-ballot limit.

He also reiterated to attendees that it has been difficult to get enough information to charge someone.

The two-hour question-and-answer session recorded Aug. 30 took place in the sheriff’s office with about 25 to 30 people who were clearly supportive of Hayden’s ongoing investigation.

Hayden said the meeting was part of a series of talks he’s been having since the COVID-19 pandemic, intended to ease people’s fears on various topics.

The group was not representative of any particular political party, he said.

A video of it was posted to Rumble, a video platform supported by Donald Trump and right-leaning entrepreneur Peter Thiel.

A question about taking pictures

Hayden never does give the woman a direct answer about whether taking pictures of ballots or election data at polling sites would be illegal.

Ballot selfies taken by a voter of his or her own ballot were deemed legal by the state in 2018, but unauthorized disclosure of a ballot’s contents is a felony under Kansas Statute 25-2422.

When asked by the Post about Hayden’s comments, Johnson County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman directed a reporter to that same statute.

At an earlier point in the Aug. 30 meeting, Hayden exhorts attendees who want to help his office: “Volunteer. Go to the election office and keep an eye on them, because that is what we’ve done. You guys are our biggest supporters.”

In a follow-up phone conversation with the Post Sunday, Hayden clarified that he is not deputizing private citizens to commit illegal acts in order to help his election investigation.

“Oh, gosh no, not at all. That would be wholly inappropriate,” he said.

His recent comments, he said, were meant to encourage attendees at the meeting to educate themselves about the process.

Hayden at first said he had told woman who asked about taking pictures at the polls to be cautious and to ask someone at the polling station whether it would be okay.

He also said he did tell her it is illegal to take a picture of anyone else’s ballot. But later in the phone conversation, he acknowledged the video does not show him clearly saying that, and that those sentiments may have been said by people in crosstalk in the meeting.

“It’s kind of unfortunate the way this thing’s recorded, but there were probably 50 people in the room,” he said.

Hayden said he understood the woman to be asking about printed data for the primary vote recount that did not include names of voters.

“As a poll worker can I take a picture of stuff that I see as evidence to give to you?” she is heard asking on the video.

In the phone conversation Sunday, Hayden said the rules on who can take images of printouts of voter data from election offices are a “vague place in the law,” but he acknowledged he did not know if it’s illegal to take them.

“I think everybody knows, especially the workers over there that it’s illegal to take a picture of somebody else’s ballot. Now the printout, I do not know if it is or not,” he said.

Johnson County Sheriff’s investigation goes on

During a recent hearing in Johnson County District Court, the county’s legal representatives said they believed Hayden’s investigation would soon be drawing to a close.

But in speaking to the group on Aug. 30, Hayden seemed to indicate it is nowhere near being over. He didn’t rule out an eventual request to the FBI for help, though he says he’s not talked to the agency yet.

At the meeting, he told supporters he is not ready to drop it, and may in fact continue to pursue his voter fraud suspicions through other avenues.

“I’m really making them mad and I don’t care,” he said of other county officials. “We will continue to dig until I’m convinced there’s nothing there. I’m a little hard headed.”

In answer to another question from an attendee, Hayden said the lack of probable cause for charges may not stop the investigation.

“If it affects our citizens we’re going to pursue it. I don’t care if it’s international, we will go where we have to go,” he said. “We may have to rely on the (Department of Justice).”

The state legislature may be another avenue to try, he said, adding he’s got some recommendations he’d make to lawmakers.

In particular, state statutes on election procedural violations should come with some specific punishments, he said.

“We’re going to work with the legislature to try to get it tightened up,” he said. “You may see ballot boxes go; you may see machines go.”

Social unrest

On the video, Hayden also gave his opinions on a number of other topics, including his efforts to get more funding to attract applicants in an understaffed sheriff’s office.

He related memories of the protest marches around Johnson County in the summer of 2020 after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Johnson County Sheriff’s deputies, under mutual aid agreements, were at the Kansas City, Mo., protests as well as at events in Prairie Village and Lawrence, he said.

Hayden said he told local authorities that he is opposed to letting marchers block the streets, but in Prairie Village, city leaders decided to allow it, he said.

“I told them, ‘I’ll watch for a while. If they break anything I don’t care if it’s a pencil, we’re going to take them to jail,’” he is heard telling the attendees in the video posted to Rumble.

Likewise, he said Johnson County loaded up 100 officers in “big black buses” to watch over a Lawrence protest.

“There’s nothing I wanted more than to go down Mass Street and arrest them all,” he says in the video.

More protests might be coming with the next elections, Hayden suggested.

“If these elections go the way we think they’re going to go there may be some social unrest,” he said, adding that he needs to hire more specialists in social unrest because his current force is depleted by half.

One questioner referenced a conspiracy theory about federal funding for 87,000 Internal Revenue Service agents, saying he feared the agents would be going house to house to suppress political opponents.

Hayden’s response: “The IRS is a spooky, spooky entity. I can tell the FBI to get out of my county,” he said, but not the IRS.

“It’s why it’s important to have an army you can depend on. I will tell you they’re going to have every IRS agency in the United States come to Johnson County, Kansas before they start doing the crap they’re doing because we’re going to be 500 strong and we’ll do what we need to do,” he said, followed by enthusiastic applause.

Hayden’s response

Contacted on Sunday afternoon by phone, Hayden tried to clarify some of the comments he’s heard making in the video.

On the possibility of the FBI becoming involved, Hayden said it’s a subject that so far has not been broached.

“No, not at all. Not yet,” he said. But he wouldn’t rule it out either, he said.

His office has gotten volumes of complaints, he said, some of which involve companies the county has contracts with. Some of those international corporate relationships bear looking into, he said.

“Not a day goes by when somebody is not providing some other complaint or some other information,” that the sheriff’s office is obligated to look into. “Some of it is crazy and way out there. Some of it is not, but it takes a long time to vet some of this stuff out.”

“Everybody wants to get this thing wrapped up. We all do,” he said. “But this is one of the most complicated issues we’ve run up against.”

On his allusions to social unrest in the future, he declined to predict the next election.

He also pledged to enforce the laws on protest equally and with no preference to any political ideology.

“I don’t care which side it is, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to keep the citizens of Johnson County safe,” he said. “And if they’re going to exercise their First Amendment rights we’ll protect that. Let’s just do it legally.”

On the IRS, Hayden said he’s not encountered a situation where IRS agents are conducting warrantless searches of individual homes, but that he meant to assure people that they would be protected from that if it does happen.

He stressed that the Johnson County Sheriff’s office’s response would be nonviolent.

“Absolutely. We’ll go talk to them,” he said. “I haven’t found any of them yet to be crazy right-wing people. The bottom line is there’s a law. The laws are there for a reason and we abide by the law. Both sides of us do.”

“I’m not this crazy guy that they’re trying to make me out to be. I’m not this right-wing nut. I work for the citizens of this county and we’re going to keep the peace,” he said as the interview concluded. “We’ll work with anybody who wants to help us.”

This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Contact her at roxieham@gmail.com.
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