Kansas Rep. Watkins faces probe after listing UPS store as address on voter registration
photo by: Peter Hancock
Story updated at 8:01 p.m. Wednesday:
TOPEKA — Authorities plan to investigate whether a freshman Kansas congressman broke state laws by listing a UPS Inc. store as his address on a voter registration form and for obtaining a mail-in ballot in a November election.
The questions about Rep. Steve Watkins come as some fellow Republicans hope to oust him during the August 2020 primary. State Treasurer Jake LaTurner is challenging him for the GOP nomination, having jumped into the race at the urging of former Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer.
Watkins’ spokesman said Wednesday that the congressman’s use of the UPS store’s address in southwest Topeka was an inadvertent mistake that will be corrected. But Watkins’ use of the address raised questions about the legality of his last registration and whether he improperly voted Nov. 5 in local races and on a state ballot question.
The local prosecutor, Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay, said Wednesday that he had asked the county sheriff’s department to review the matter and report back to him. Sheriff Brian Hill’s office promised to investigate “thoroughly and objectively.” Both Kagay and Hill are Republicans.
Voter registration records show that Watkins has listed three addresses as residences since September 2017. He used the UPS store’s address as a separate mailing address from September 2017 until August 2018, when he listed two homes as residences.
He submitted a new voter registration form in late August, listing the UPS store address as his only address. Spokesman Dylan Jones said in an email that the congressman now lives in an apartment in west Topeka.
“Steve listed his mailing address instead of his physical address,” Jones said. “This was inadvertent and both addresses are in the same county and same congressional district, so there was no improper purpose. The paperwork is being corrected. ”
But the apartment complex and the UPS store are in different City Council districts, and only the district with the UPS store was on the ballot in November. Jones did not immediately respond to an email asking whether Watkins voted in that local race, though a poll book record shows Watkins returned his mail-in ballot and it was counted.
Local school board seats and a proposed amendment to the state constitution on legislative redistricting also were on the ballot.
The Topeka Capital-Journal first reported Watkins’ use of the UPS store address on his voter registration and ballot request forms.
The Kansas secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections, said 16 other people are registered to vote with the address of the same UPS store. Spokeswoman Katie Koupal said state law allows such a registration under some circumstances, such as when a voter is homeless or when the voter has a rural residence with an address not recognized by the U.S. Postal Service.
Watkins, a 43-year-old former Army officer and military contractor, faced questions during the 2018 campaign about his lack of prior involvement in GOP politics. He didn’t live in the state again after leaving high school until he returned in 2017, ahead of his run for Congress.
His last financial disclosure form filed with the House, covering 2018, showed that he owned two rental homes in the Anchorage, Alaska, area, but no property in Kansas. His father, a physician, owns a home in southwest Topeka and put nearly $762,000 ahead of the 2018 primary into a political action committee whose only beneficiary was his son.
Kansas law makes it a felony for someone to make a false statement in registering to vote or to cast a vote in a district in which they’re not qualified to vote.
Records show Watkins initially registered to vote in Topeka in September 2017 at a state driver’s license office, listing a central Topeka home as his residence. The following day, he submitted a new form adding a separate mailing address — for the UPS store in southwest Topeka.
The day before the August 2018 primary, Watkins reregistered at the home in southern Topeka, without listing a separate mailing address.
He reregistered again on Aug. 28, listing the UPS store’s address as his only address. Records show that he requested a mail-in ballot on Oct. 28, also listing the UPS store address on the “Residential Address” line. He asked that the ballot be mailed to an apartment in Washington.
Jones did not immediately respond to questions about how long Watkins has lived at his latest residence, the apartment in west Topeka, or why he maintained a separate mailing address.