Earlier this spring, Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden painted a distressing picture of the county’s elections during a hearing before a Kansas Senate committee.
According to his testimony, there had been more than 15 statutory violations of election laws his office had turned over to the district attorney that were awaiting action. There had been no criminal penalties for most of those violations so far, he said, but crime mapping went “all the way to China.”
Hayden has been investigating Johnson County election results for over a year but has so far largely failed to produce any evidence publicly to back up complaints he says he’s hearing from residents that there was widespread voter fraud in 2020 and 2021, frequently saying he can’t because of the ongoing investigation.
Following Hayden’s testimony in March, the Post sought public records related to the 15 violations Hayden referenced to lawmakers.
That open records request produced a single case that has been referred to District Attorney Steve Howe. And for that one case, Howe told the Post there was no evidence to support bringing criminal charges.
Hayden declined, through a spokesperson, to comment for this story, so the discrepancy between his testimony to lawmakers and his department’s investigatory work could not be reconciled.
Hayden said prosecutors are being intimidated
Hayden appeared in March before the Kansas Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee along with Kansas Republican Party Chairman Mike Brown, formerly a Johnson County commissioner, and others to voice concerns about a bill meant to clean up technical problems with election law.
During his testimony against the bill, Hayden lamented the fact that the state attorney general and secretary of state had not pursued complaints about elections that Hayden said he had heard from residents.
He suggested most prosecutors have been scared off from bringing charges to election-related crimes because of backlash and bad press.
“The problem is not a district attorney is going to touch this because they’ve seen how I’ve been railed on with the news and the (Kansas City) Star and everybody else and called all these names. Nobody wants to touch this,” he said.
In an emailed answer to follow-up questions from the Post following his testimony in March, Hayden reiterated that there were a growing number of statutory violations of election law in Johnson County and that they were turned over to the DA’s office.
Most of them centered around proper handling of ballots, he said.
“We cannot give specifics since this is still an active investigation and we still have not received all the data we’re requested from public and private entities,” he said at the time.
He added that Howe was still determining if criminal penalties applied.
“That is an ongoing conversation,” he said.
Records request produced one case report
The Post then requested the first pages of the Kansas Standard Offense Reports on the violations that would be turned over to the DA’s office and referred for charges. The first pages are open records under state law.
Hayden declined to provide them, citing concern about revealing the names of citizens who file complaints.
But District Attorney Howe did supply them, turning over one offense report.
The document alleged voter intimidation (KS 25-2415.A.1) and also cited a section of election law pertaining to employers obstructing employees’ voting rights.
The report was dated August. 23, 2022, but the incident was alleged to have taken place July 13, 2022, in a government building at about 5 p.m.
No narrative was supplied to explain exactly what happened.
That day — July 13 — was the first day in-person voting can be done in Kansas, but Johnson County did not start advance in-person voting for the August primary election until July 16.
A 37-year-old Roeland Park woman is listed as the victim. When reached by the Post, she declined to fill in any details about the incident.
Another person, Andrea Berezoski, was also listed on the complaint. Berezoski is secretary of the Johnson County Republican Party. She did not respond to a Facebook message from the Post seeking comment.
No charges were brought in that one case
Howe has in the past not responded to questions about Hayden’s investigation of the election process, but he did say recently that no further action has been taken on the incident involving the Roeland Park woman.
“There was no evidence supporting charges,” was his emailed response.
Howe added this was the only case submission from the Sheriff’s office regarding voting integrity and potential violation of voting statues his office has received.
When asked in a recent phone interview if there were other, more informal complaints his office is pursuing, Howe said police and prosecutors may have informal discussions on a variety of topics, but when it comes to submitting actual cases for charges, “no matter what those charges might be, that always has a standard offense report.”
He declined to comment on a question about whether he agreed with Hayden’s assertions that the state’s election laws need more criminal penalties without more specifics on which statutes.
The investigation, as far as we know, continues
Hayden has been investigating local elections since the fall of 2021 but has revealed few details publicly about where it is headed or when it will conclude.
He has spoken to conservative and right-wing groups, including the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association in Las Vegas last year, about his views questioning the veracity of the 2020 election and casting continuing doubt on how the county handles its voting.
So far, when pressed by journalists, he has been sparing with details about any statutory violations, citing the ongoing investigation.
Last year, he said he’d received more than 200 tips about fraudulent activities in local elections, but a similar KORA request from public radio station KCUR produced only one offense report, which had not been turned over to the DA.
County leaders have steadfastly supported the county’s election processes and the integrity of results in the last two election cycles since Hayden began his investigation.
Neither the county manager’s office nor County Commission Chairman Mike Kelly commented for this story, due to Hayden’s ongoing investigation.
Election Commissioner Fred Sherman did not respond to a request for comment.
Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.