Johnson County Sheriff won’t release records related to election probe, calling it a ‘criminal investigation’

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden. File photo.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with comments from Johnson County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman.

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden has now begun calling his office’s months-long, taxpayer-funded probe into the 2020 and 2021 election results a “criminal investigation” and has rebuffed requests to produce records related to his office’s work on the matter.

  • Hayden’s continued assertions casting doubt on the legitimacy of recent election results here has again prompted Johnson County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman to affirm that he stands by “the integrity and accuracy” of the vote counts in recent election cycles.

Why it matters: The investigation first came to light publicly in February, when Hayden told a local conservative group his office was looking into the outcomes of the 2020 and 2021 elections in Johnson County and that he had assigned a cybersecurity employee in the sheriff’s office to look into voting data.

  • As his main point buttressing his suspicions, Hayden said at that time that he felt that the growing number of registered Democrats in the county seemed irregular, a claim he has repeated in recent weeks in multiple public appearances.
  • In response to Hayden’s revelation of an ongoing election probe, Sherman publicly vouched for the county’s processes and final counts and has suggested that questions about the integrity of the vote here are in line with national efforts to undermine the legitimacy of free and fair elections.
  • Kansas’s Republican Secretary of State Scott Schwab, who is from Johnson County, has also said there is no evidence voter fraud swayed the 2020 results.

Key quote: “Baseless attacks aimed at Johnson County’s elections process are consistent with a concerted nationwide effort to push agendas and narratives to erode public confidence in elections,” Sherman wrote earlier this year.

Voters line up for advanced in-person voting at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center in Overland Park in October 2020. File photo.

What’s new? Hayden has talked freely to conservative groups in Johnson County and recently in Las Vegas about his doubts about the integrity of election procedures but has not produced any evidence.

  • In remarks at an Olathe event in June billed as an election security forum, Hayden said he suspected corruption “runs to the top” and that he’d like to put any alleged responsible people in handcuffs.
  • This week, at a Las Vegas gathering of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association — a group that espouses the view that a sheriff’s authority within their county supersedes that of all other government agents or elected officials at any level — Hayden again reportedly questioned the notion that former President Trump did not carry Johnson County in 2020, which he pointed out had previously gone to Republican presidential candidates for decades.

Johnson County trend similar to other suburban areas across country: Hayden has primarily pointed to the growing number of registered Democrats and the improved performance of Democratic candidates in Johnson County as what is driving his suspicions.

  • But that trend in Johnson County is not an aberration.
  • Political scientists and pollsters have noted the trend of suburban voters increasingly aligning with the Democratic Party in the years before the 2020 election.
  • Notably, Johnsons Countians voted to replace incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder with Democrat Sharice Davids in 2018 by a 13-point margin.
  • In the weeks before the 2020 election, the Johnson County Election Office reported a 41% increase in Democratic registrations compared to October 2016.

Sheriff’s office won’t produce records related to investigation: In an effort to find out more about what now appears to be a 10-month investigation, the Post sent an open records request July 6 asking for:

  • copies of communications between the sheriff’s office and election officials, the county commission and district attorney’s office,
  • email exchanges with the public on election integrity,
  • and an accounting of hours worked by the employee assigned the task and the cost to the county.

What else? The sheriff also declined to produce communications with other county officials, work product and email exchanges from the public regarding election integrity, each time saying they are part of a “criminal investigation.”

  • No time sheets or accounting of hours worked on the issue have been made, nor is there an estimate of the costs of the investigation, according to the sheriff’s office response.
  • Hayden did not respond to a follow-up email and a call made Thursday.

More reaction: In a response to the Post this week, Election Commissioner Fred Sherman again defended the validity of the county’s recent vote counts and said that his office has not been asked to provide any evidence to the sheriff’s office. He also tweeted this week in response to Hayden’s reported comments in Las Vegas:

Political issue: The sheriff’s actions have not gone unnoticed among candidates running in the August 2 primary for county commission chair. At a Shawnee Mission Post forum Wednesday night, candidates brought up the sheriff’s investigation in response to a question about the 2020 presidential election.

  • Roeland Park Mayor Mike Kelly called Hayden’s probe a “waste of resources for our sheriff to be investigating election fraud now.”
  • Former Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer said he’s confident that “if there were issues in Johnson County they will be found by the sheriff’s investigation,” and that he will not pass judgment until he sees a report. “I think he’s (Hayden) a good person. I think he knows what he’s doing,” he added.
  • Current county commissioner and one-time Republican state representative Charlotte O’Hara said, “I support Sheriff Hayden in his investigation. We need to have clarity in where the problems are and then go forward.”
  • And another current county commissioner, Shirley Allenbrand, praised the professionalism of county and state election officials: “I take a lot of stock in the professionalism of (Secretary of State Scott) Schwab and our professional staff. Fred Sherman has worked tirelessly. I put my trust in them.”

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com