JoCo Sheriff recently sought more involvement in elections, prompting concern from county’s top lawyer

After months of voicing criticism and suspicion of the county’s election process without providing evidence, Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden recently pushed for his office to have a bigger role in overseeing local elections, according to a document obtained by the Post through an open records request.

  • Among other things, Hayden suggested to county election officials that his staff should be in charge of picking up ballots from drop boxes in unmarked vehicles and should also be present in the room where the election board counts ballots.
  • Those suggestions were rebuffed, the document indicates, leaving current election procedures unchanged as early voting begins for the August 2 primary that features a much-discussed constitutional amendment on abortion and a primary contest for county commission chair.

Why it matters: In turning down Hayden’s suggestions, the county’s top lawyer expressed concerns at an increased role in elections for the sheriff, which is a partisan elected position. (Hayden is not on the ballot in 2022, having last run unopposed in 2020.)

  • The county’s chief legal counsel Peggy Trent wrote to Hayden in a letter dated July 7: “As we discussed, my concern is that these requests give the appearance that the sheriff’s office is attempting to interfere with an election and to direct a duly authorized election official as to how an election will be conducted.”
  • Trent also emphasized that state and federal laws govern local elections, adding that election “procedures and duties are set out and we cannot, and will not, permit a violation of duty or statute.”
Sheriff Calvin Hayden. File photo.

The bigger picture: Hayden has spent months alleging corruption and malfeasance in the county’s election procedures, though local and state election officials have repeatedly vouched for the “integrity and accuracy” of recent election results in Johnson County and Kansas more broadly.

  • Hayden has been telling conservative groups since March that he doubts the outcomes of the 2020 and 2021 election results here, without offering any evidence beyond his contention that the increasing number of registered Democrats in Johnson County is suspicious, though such trends have been happening here and in other metro suburban areas for years.
  • He’s also questioned the security of drop boxes for advanced ballots.
  • At a June event in Olathe dubbed an election security forum, Hayden told the crowd that he suspects corruption “runs to the top” and that he’d like to put any people allegedly responsible in handcuffs.

The latest: In the letter addressed to Hayden dated July 7, Trent summarizes a meeting that occurred two days earlier and was attended by Hayden, several sheriff’s deputies, county Election Commissioner Fred Sherman, Assistant Election Commissioner Josh King and Assistant County Manager Joe Waters.

  • Hayden had initially asked for the meeting to discuss the security of ballot drop boxes, Trent wrote.
  • “During this meeting you inquired of county staff about prior election processes, challenged the integrity of elections in Johnson County and requested that local law enforcement participate in the current election procedures,” Trent writes.
  • The Post has reached out to Hayden for comment on this latest story and is awaiting a response.

What did he want? According to the letter, Hayden specifically:

  • asked why ballot drop boxes were located at public libraries in 2020, contrary to his recommendation, and whether drop boxes would be eliminated,
  • suggested drop box hours of availability should be limited,
  • argued that state law requires all ballots be printed in-state,
  • offered to use his staff to collect ballots in unmarked cars,
  • suggested ballots be counted at the drop box site,
  • questioned whether the election office would police a ten-ballot limit on deliveries for another person,
  • asked that a sheriff’s staffer attend and observe the official counting inside a visitor restricted area
  • and alleged the signature verification process is not in compliance with how his office conducts criminal investigations.
One of the secure drop boxes the Johnson County Election Office used to collect mail-in ballots during the 2020 election. The drop boxes have remained in use for the 2021 election and now for the current 2022 primary election. File photo.

What we know about the investigation: For roughly ten months, Hayden says he’s had an information technology employee in the sheriff’s office looking into various questions about recent elections.

  • Recently, his office began labeling the probe a “criminal investigation.”
  • So far, Hayden has not produced any evidence or referred any charges related to the probe.
  • Hayden recently rejected a separate open records request made by the Post for documents and records related to the investigation, claiming it is a criminal matter.
  • Election Commissioner Sherman has continued to stand by the county’s election processes and has told the Post that the election office has not been asked by the sheriff for any evidence or records.

Roles and responsibilities: The letter notes that local elections are governed by state and federal law, that the Secretary of State is in charge of elections throughout the state and that the county’s election officer is the local election commissioner.

  • The sheriff’s role, the letter says, is to “provide security of county buildings” and that Hayden’s responsibilities for that security differ from those dedicated to the Secretary of State and county election officers.
  • Noting that Hayden had said he is seeking information to prepare to prosecute “certain election crimes that may occur,” Trent recognized the sheriff’s authority to investigate a report of a crime and pledged to “continue to work with your office on any potential crimes we become aware of.”
  • “The county, in turn, through the election commissioner, will attend to its assigned roles and responsibilities and will continue to execute fair and impartial elections for county citizens,” Trent wrote.
  • The letter goes on to say that the sheriff agreed that the county’s security governance committee should convene to define the role of the sheriff’s office in providing security for county buildings, including the use of security cameras and other measures in compliance with federal, county and state policies.

Commission notified: Copies of the letter were distributed to the county commission and County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson.

  • Outgoing Commission Chair Ed Eilert declined to comment on the meeting or the letter.

Read the letter sent to Sheriff Calvin Hayden on July 7:

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