GOP congressman may have committed voter fraud with wrong address

2014

Steve Watkins ran on a 'Kansas First' platform, but it's unclear where he actually resides.

Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS), a first-term lawmaker who has faced allegations of sexual predation and falsified credentials, may have committed voter fraud and perjury, according to an investigation by the Topeka Capital-Journal published on Tuesday.

The outlet claimed that Watkins repeatedly listed his legal residence as a UPS store.

According to the report, Watkins lived in Alaska until September 2017. After moving to Kansas, he had his election mail delivered to a UPS location. Watkins signed at least three documents listening his residence as 6021 S.W. 29th St. in Topeka, which is a UPS store that accepts mail deliveries for customers.

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Experts and bipartisan officials criticized the move. Officials told the Capital-Journal it could constitute both federal felony voter fraud and state election perjury, as Watkins voted in a precinct last month based on his UPS store address.

"Unless Iā€™m mistaken, no one can live at a UPS store. It cannot be a place of residence," said state Rep. Blake Carpenter (R) of the House Elections Committee. "This person undoubtedly voted in an election in November for candidates that he had no constitutional right to vote for. This is wrong and illegal. No one should be above the law."

Jim Joice, Watkins' chief of staff, told the paper that the legal documents were an inadvertent error. "He just filed it incorrectly," he said, calling the matter "a little ludicrous."

Joice did not immediately respond to an inquiry about how the mistake was made repeatedly. He did not respond to questions about where Watkins has resided since September 2017, or whether all of the mistaken filings have since been corrected.

Voter fraud is extremely rare in the United States. While Republicans both in Kansas and at the federal level have pushed for strict voter ID laws to prevent impersonation fraud, studies have shown more people are struck by lightning than impersonate other voters.

Even tough photo ID laws like the one Kansas adopted do nothing to prevent someone from lying about their address when they register.

Watkins narrowly won last year in Kansas' solidly red 2nd Congressional District. The top issue on his website was "Kansas First."

During that campaign, a woman accused Watkins of having locked the door of a room to make unwelcome sexual advances some 12 years before. His campaign called the allegations "preposterous."

Watkins also faced questions during that campaign about whether he lied about his qualifications. Earlier this year, he had to deny rumors that he was about to resign from Congress.

In August, former Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) publicly urged a 2020 primary challenge to Watkins, saying his district deserves "to be represented by a Republican who shares their values." With his support, State Treasurer Jake LaTurner (R) dropped a planned Senate bid and announced he'd run against Watkins.

Still, Watkins did receive backing in September from Mike Pence, who praised Kansans for supporting the embattled representative and endorsed him as "awesome."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.