Kansas GOP executive, Johnson County sheriff try shooting down election bill

TOPEKA — The new chairman of the Kansas Republican Party and a Kansas sheriff investigating alleged voter fraud Monday joined two dozen citizens urging the Kansas Senate to kill election reform legislation advocated by Secretary of State Scott Schwab.

The bill approved unanimously by the Kansas House would make 95 changes to remedy conflicting, obsolete or confusing language in state law. Inside the Capitol, ironically, Republicans have turned on fellow Republicans as conflict over the bill escalated.

GOP chairman Mike Brown and Schwab, both Republicans, ran against each other in 2022 for secretary of state and find themselves in opposite corners on House Bill 2086. Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden is a Republican who found his adversary at the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee hearing in Clay Barker, a Schwab deputy and former executive director of the Kansas GOP.

Barker said the core of the bill before the Senate was recommended by Schwab to “modernize, improve and secure our elections without causing voter confusion.”

Brown said it was wrong for the secretary of state to label the bill a series of technical corrections and transparency upgrades.

Brown countered that the bill consolidated power in the secretary of state’s office while placing responsibility for local elections on the shoulders of county clerks.

In addition, Brown said the legislation eliminated due process rights of Kansans attempting to file complaints about election irregularities.

“This single point alone should be reason enough to kill this bill,” Brown said. “Our elections do need to be tightened up. This bill does not strengthen the Kansas election process nor does it deter interference in our very sacred elections.”

Schwab’s power grab?

Maria Holiday, chairwoman of the Johnson County Republican Party, questioned Schwab’s claim Kansas elections were safe and accurate.

“Perhaps our elections aren’t as secure as we have been led to believe if we need to write extensive bills designed to circumvent the people,” she said. “More power at the top and less with the grass roots is not how this country was founded and is a slap in the face to those boots on the ground working to get their candidates elected and keep our local communities, state and county great.”

Sheriff in the Capitol Hayden, the sheriff of the state’s most populous county, told senators during the hearing that his office’s ongoing two-year investigation into complaints about election fraud led to findings that 11 state election statutes were violated in Johnson County. He didn’t offer details, but pointed to “willful violations by the secretary of state and the election commissioner of Johnson County.”

He alleged neither Schwab nor then-Attorney General Derek Schmidt had taken seriously public complaints of election misconduct.

The sheriff said the bill passed without dissent by the House was flawed because it didn’t do enough to increase criminal penalties, such as fines and jail time, for breaking existing election law.

“I am concerned with the lack of criminal penalties for any violation of this bill,” Hayden said. “As sheriff, I have a duty to investigate citizen complaints to a successful conclusion. We have identified these violations occurred and submitted them to our district attorney’s office, who cannot prosecute when there is no criminal punishment stated in the statutes.”

Hayden complained about being called names by people opposed to his election fraud inquiry in Johnson County. He said no district attorney in Kansas would take the case given the disrespectful manner he had been treated by reporters and “everybody else.”

“I’m going to take the heat. I don’t care,” the sheriff said.