Investigation into Rep. Watkins could have legal, political consequences

Local News

Update Jan. 31 (8:15 p.m.): Detectives plan to meet with the Representative Steve Watkins next month as part of their investigation. After they follow up with him, they will send the case to the Shawnee County District Attorney.

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – Congressman Steve Watkins is accused of voter fraud after listing a UPS store on multiple voting documents.

In 2017, Watkins listed a West Topeka address on a voter form. Then in August of 2018, just months before he was elected to congress, he listed an address in Southeast Topeka.

Yet on three different voter forms he used the address of a Topeka UPS store, where his staff said he has mail sent.

That’s where the controversy comes in. The UPS store is in Topeka’s 8th city council district, where Watkins voted in last month’s election. But the Overlook Apartment, where his staff said he lives, is in District 9.

KSNT News Political Analyst Dr. Bob Beatty explains this is at the heart of the controversy.

“This is against the law. It’s not legal to falsify a voting address, so it’s just a bizarre situation why anyone would do it, let alone a U.S. Congressman,” KSNT News Political Analyst and Washburn University Political Science Chair Dr. Bob Beatty.

When asked about the discrepancy Dylan Jones, a spokesman for Watkins, said, in part: “This was inadvertent… there was no improper purpose.” Jones said the correct address is being added to the forms.

“Certainly mistakes can be made in writing addresses for voting purposes. Probably the biggest problem is Steve Watkins voted in the district where he does not live,” Beatty said.

Beatty said voter fraud is an issue many in the Kansas Republican Party have taken a hard line on.

“There are many people in Kansas, most famously former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who would label that voter fraud,” said Beatty. “Kansas is nationally known for the last few years for having some of the most stringent voter fraud laws in the nation.”

Shawnee County Sheriff’s Deputy Abigail Christian confirmed local law enforcement is investigating.

“The Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office has been made aware by the District Attorney’s office of allegations towards Congressman Steve Watkins. So we will be investigating those allegations,” Christian said, “This is the very beginning of it. It’s a preliminary investigation.”

It’s too soon to tell what the legal repercussions will be, but Beatty said that Watkins could face political consequences.

“What Congressman Watkins has done is hand Jake LaTurner, his opponent, just a gold mine of ammunition to use against Watkins in the primary,” Beatty said.

Under state law election perjury is a felony where the criminal could be sentenced to 5-7 months in prison and a $100,000 fine.

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