Johnson County GOP and others defend local election system as sheriff conducts investigation

Johnson County election guide

The Johnson County Republican Party on Tuesday issued a statement refuting claims of alleged irregularities in the 2020 and 2021 election cycles and contradicting claims made by Sheriff Calvin Hayden that an increase in Democratic voter registration in recent years was suspicious. File image.

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden’s announcement that he has tasked a cybersecurity specialist from his office to check into citizen claims of election irregularities drew swift responses from both sides of the political aisle Tuesday, including from the Johnson County Republican Party.

In a statement Tuesday, the county GOP distanced itself from Hayden’s recent remarks about the election process and expressed trust that the county election office ran secure and fair elections in 2020 and 2021.

“The official position of the Johnson County Republican Party Leadership is that the election system in our county is secured. We trust in the work of election workers, the election commissioner, and the Secretary of State,” read a release signed by Marisel Walston, the county Republican Party chair, along with two other party executives.

Key takeaways 

• The Johnson County Republican Party says the county’s election system is “secured” and that there is no evidence of voter fraud from the 2020 and 2021 elections.

• Sheriff Calvin Hayden has tasked a cybersecurity employee from his office with looking into citizen claims of irregularities in recent elections.

• The nonprofit League of Women Voters called Hayden’s investigation “baseless” and a “sham.”

Hayden appeared at a dinner Monday evening hosted by the Northeast Johnson County Conservatives.

He was there alongside Thad Snider, a critic of the county’s election administration who has sued the county regarding access to election records and called for Johnson County’s results in 2020 and 2021 to be decertified.

Prior to the meeting, Hayden said he shared some of Snider’s concerns about the handling of the election. In particular, he mentioned the high Democratic registration numbers cited by Snider as suspicious “anomalies.”

Hayden did not allege crimes and said that nothing he’s found so far elevates the question to a criminal proceeding.

County GOP response

Johnson County has long been a Republican stronghold, but GOP chair Walston noted that from 2018-2020 Democrats outpaced Republicans in registering moderate and swing voters who were upset with then-President Donald Trump.

She cited demographic changes in the county that are bringing younger, more well-off and more highly educated people to the county.

She also pointed out that GOP-backed candidates won some races for city council and school board in the most recent elections in November, though those contests were nominally nonpartisan.

The statement also said the county Republican Party executive committee has looked at election procedures and found no evidence of fraud, although Walston acknowledged there have been some administrative errors that did not impact the outcome.

In any case, Walston said bills being considered in the state Legislatures should address further concerns about the election.

“If in the future we are presented with evidence to suggest fraud, we will revisit this issue. However, as of this date, we have not seen any evidence of fraud and believe the allegations without proof are not in the best interest of our county,” she wrote.

“The best way to win elections is to ensure every Republican gets out and votes. We have an excellent strategy to get out the vote and register folks this year. We look forward to a successful election in 2022.”

Others harshly criticize Hayden

Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters and county commission chair candidate Mike Kelly expressed dismay on Tuesday.

League president Amber Stenger called Hayden’s investigation “baseless” and a “sham.”

“The Johnson County Election Office is worthy of voters’ trust,” she wrote in a news release. “Baseless claims such as these are meant to undermine the most fundamental component of our democracy. This investigation is a needless and harmful distraction.”

Residents should instead focus on gerrymandering and disinformation campaigns that pose a real threat to voting fairness, she said. The League is a nonprofit voting rights organization.

Kelly, the current Roeland Park mayor, cited Republican Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s findings that there is no evidence of election fraud. He objected to Hayden’s use of taxpayer money to fund the investigation.

“Voters in Johnson County will not stand for these lies. Johnson Countians expect our elected leaders to use taxpayer resources efficiently for the common good. While we will always support our public safety officers who protect and serve our residents, Sheriff Hayden should immediately suspend this baseless, politically-motivated ‘investigation,’” he said in a press release.

Distrust of the election has become a theme among some county residents since the former president and his supporters began saying they lost the 2020 election due to fraud. However, save for a few very isolated cases, no fraud has ever been substantiated by evidence.

Read the full Johnson County Republican Party statement below: 

“The official position of the Johnson County Republican Party (JCRP) Leadership is that the election system in our county is secured. We trust in the work of election workers, the election commissioner, and the Secretary of State. We had very good election cycles in both 2020 and 2021. We won two seats each in Blue Valley and Olathe School Districts and many City Council seats, too.

Of the complaints and allegations of fraud in Kansas, one is that it was impossible for all the Democratic votes to have been legitimate because there were so many Democratic votes compared to years past. Based on our experience in Johnson County, we disagree because we know that new Democratic registration greatly outpaced new Republican registrations in the two-year span of 2018-2020. During that time, Democrats spent millions of dollars nationally and locally to register moderate and swing voters who were upset with former President Trump. JCRP fielded numerous calls and emails from these very same voters that decided to change their registration. Also, Johnson County is the fastest-growing county in Kansas, and demographically its new voters are younger, have higher levels of education, and are wealthier. With all this in mind, it is not surprising to individuals who have been involved in local elections that Democratic voter registration is increasing. 

The JCRP Executive Committee has internally reviewed the claims made, and at this time we have not been presented with any evidence of fraud. Sheriff Calvin Hayden has also stated that he has not seen any evidence of election fraud. Yes, there have been administrative errors that have been brought to light; however, those errors would not have impacted the results of the elections. There are aspects of the process that need to be addressed and we are closely following and advocating for improvements in the overall process.

If in the future we are presented with evidence to suggest fraud, we will revisit this issue. However, as of this date, we have not seen any evidence of fraud and believe the allegations without proof are not in the best interest of our county. We are committed to the integrity and the right of every citizen to vote in every election. In addition, at this time there are Bills going through the legislative process that would take care of a lot of the concerns Johnson County citizens have regarding the election process. 

The best way to win elections is to ensure every Republican gets out and votes. We have an excellent strategy to get out the vote and register folks this year. We look forward to a successful election in 2022.

Johnson County Republican Party Leadership

Marisel Walston, Chair

Dustin Morris, Vice-Chair and Treasurer

Laurel Stiffler, Secretary