Kansas Congressman Steve Watkins charged with voter fraud, interfering with law enforcement
photo by: Associated Press
Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins on Tuesday was charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor related to voter fraud he allegedly committed during the 2019 election.
The charges, announced by Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay, landed less than an hour before a televised debate between Watkins and his challengers in the Aug. 4 primary election was set to begin. Despite the charges, Watkins appeared at the debate, televised on Topeka station KSNT.
The charges facing Watkins were mentioned immediately, and Watkins dismissed them as “hyperpolitical” and lamented the fact that they were announced just before the debate began.
“I haven’t done anything wrong. This is very suspicious and it’s highly political,” he said. “I haven’t seen the charges; I just know that I look forward to clearing my name. I look forward to setting the record straight.”
Watkins is facing felony charges of interference with law enforcement by providing false information; voting without being qualified; and unlawful advance voting. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of failing to notify the DMV of a change of address. In the 2019 local elections, Watkins used a Topeka UPS store as his registration address and allegedly voted in the wrong city council district.
According to state sentencing guidelines, it’s unlikely Watkins would face jail time over the charges. He could instead face a maximum of 28 months probation if convicted of the felonies.
Jake LaTurner, the Kansas state treasurer and Watkins’ main challenger in the 2020 primary for the 2nd Congressional District seat, said in the debate the charges fit a pattern with how Watkins conducted himself during his first term in office. Namely, LaTurner chided Watkins for wavering in his support of President Donald Trump and criticized the congressman’s foreign policy views.
“There is a pattern here,” LaTurner said. “Steve Watkins needs to take responsibility for what he’s done and take control of the legal issues that are coming his way.”
A spokesperson for Watkins’ congressional office did not immediately return a request for comment.