U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins, R-Kan., has been charged with four crimes, including three felonies, linked to his allegedly repeatedly signing documents last year listing a UPS Store in Topeka as his home address.
Republican Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced Tuesday he had filed the charges, which are linked to the November 2019 general election, in which Watkins cast an advance ballot but wasn’t a candidate.
Kagay said he charged Watkins, 43, with one felony count each of voting without being qualified, unlawful advance voting and interference with law enforcement involving providing false information; and a misdemeanor count of failing to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of a change of address.
Watkins maintained his innocence late Tuesday regarding the charges, calling them hyperpolitical and very suspicious.
The charges were filed as Watkins prepares to run in the Aug. 4 primary election against two fellow Republicans, Dennis Taylor and Kansas Treasurer Jake La Turner, for their party’s nomination for the 2nd Congressional District seat Watkins has held since January 2019.
The charges were filed after an investigation conducted by the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office, Kagay said.
Those charges "are reflective of the factual allegations that were discovered by detectives during the course of this investigation," Sheriff Brian C. Hill said in a news release put out late Tuesday.
Kagay said that probe, which he requested after news of the alleged conduct was brought to his attention last December, was delayed significantly because of the COVID-19 shutdown.
Authorities said last December that Watkins changed his residency in August 2019 for voter registration purposes, signed an application for a mail-in ballot in October 2019 and signed a document to cast his vote for the 2019 general election in November. The documents showed Watkins’ official residence as 6021 S.W. 29th in Topeka, which is the site of a UPS Store.
By changing his residency, Watkins moved from the Topeka City Council’s 5th District to its 8th District, where he participated in an election that was decided by 13 votes in November 2019.
Jim Joice, Watkins’ chief of staff, said last December that Watkins made a mistake when he listed the UPS Store as his address. Joice said Watkins actually lived in the Overlook Apartments, 1310 S.W. Overlook, which are about 2½ miles north of the UPS Store. Those apartments are in the city council’s 9th District.
Watkins won election to Congress in 2018 by getting 26% of the vote in a seven-way primary, then defeating Paul Davis, a Democrat, in the general election.