Johnson County Sheriff says long-running election investigation ‘no longer active’

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Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden’s long-running and controversial investigation into county election procedures has been put on pause, Hayden announced Monday.

“As of today, the investigation into election procedures is no longer active,” Hayden said in a press release issued late Monday afternoon. “As with some cases we must put this one on the shelf and take a pause.”

Hayden did not offer specifics on how long of a pause, nor did he explain why he chose to pause it at this point or what, if anything, it would take to resume.

Hayden did not immediately respond to the Post’s request for clarification via phone call or email.

Hayden explains disputed search warrant

The press release did, however, offer more detail about Hayden’s previous assertions — made at a Republican Party forum — that he had a search warrant in hand for ballots from 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Although he said the search warrant was in hand at the time, he later admitted it was not signed by a judge and therefore not valid as a warrant.

Hayden said in the release his office presented an affidavit to the Johnson County District Attorney’s office but was following up on their advice to get additional information before presenting it to a judge.

The ballots were destroyed before that was completed, he said.

A polling station in Overland Park in summer 2022. File photo.

Hayden’s opponent says timing is “coincidental”

In response to suggestions that his office was chasing election conspiracy theories, Hayden repeated what he has said in the past: that the nearly three-year investigation was checking on complaints from county residents.

“We work for the citizens of Johnson County, which means we take allegations of crimes seriously and investigate them no matter how controversial it is,” the release said.

The release opens with a mention of a survey “with the words ‘lied’ and ‘undermined’ used.”

His opponent for the Republican nomination for sheriff, Doug Bedford, said that was likely a reference to a poll his campaign paid for that showed him leading Hayden with a higher favorable rating.

The poll results, released by consultant Dustin Morris showed that out of 680 likely Republican voters, Bedford, who is a former undersheriff for Hayden, leads with 34%, with about 16% for Hayden and about half of primary voters undecided.

Bedford was viewed as a more favorable candidate, according to the poll, with 25% favorable and 5% unfavorable. The same poll said potential voters viewed Hayden less positively, with 27% unfavorable and 18% favorable.

Bedford, reached Monday evening, said he had just learned of Hayden’s decision on the investigation and said the announcement seemed to come “out of the blue” after three years of a changing story on election suspicions.

“It’s very coincidental that this is coming up just three weeks before the primary. Maybe he’s hoping that it can go away between now and then, even though the investigation has been going on for that many years,” Bedford said.

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden wanted ballots kept from being destroyed.
Photo via Johnson County Election Office.

Hayden has questioned county’s election system

Hayden has spoken frequently to conservative gatherings, including one in Las Vegas about his suspicions about how local elections have been run.

During the past three years, he’s mentioned the increased registration of Democrats in what has historically been a Republican-dominated county and has questioned drop boxes and voting machines.

For a time, he focused on a software company but was later warned by the company’s lawyer of potential legal problems if he continued making such assertions.

The ballot issue and search warrant comment in Monday’s press release was in reference to Hayden’s efforts to have the old ballots preserved.

State law requires old ballots to be destroyed unless they are being contested. Since there was no search warrant, county election officials complied with the Kansa Secretary of State’s office’s request to go ahead with the shredding.

“Words matter,” Bedford said, adding Hayden has been in law enforcement long enough to know the difference between a valid search warrant and an unsigned affidavit.

“’I have a search warrant in hand’ is completely different from standing up and saying, ‘I had an affidavit that I was working on to get a search warrant,’” Bedford said.

One incident referred to DA, no criminal charges

In the years since Hayden has been talking about the election investigation, only one incident has been documented to have been referred to the district attorney’s office for charges.

However, District Attorney Steve Howe — like Hayden, a Republican — said there was not enough evidence to pursue the case in court.

Hayden’s investigation has been a hot topic, and Bedford said the sheriff should have been more transparent about it.

“If there was evidence, present us with the evidence. Present us with something. If there was a problem with the voting process, present us with something, because there have been a lot of elections since 2020, and we want to make sure our elections are safe. We want to make sure everything is fair and conducted in a proper manner, and if that’s not the case, show us so we can get it fixed.”

A ballot drop box in Johnson County that collects voters' advance ballots. Photo credit Kylie Graham.
A ballot drop box in Johnson County that collects voters’ advance ballots. Photo credit Kylie Graham.

Hayden also makes comments about office’s budget

Meanwhile, the other half of Hayden’s press release Monday dwelled on the subject of the sheriff’s office’s budget.

Some of his supporters have called out the county commission in recent months, accusing the commission of trying to “defund” his office.

Hayden, in his release, pointed out that his budget has increased by $17.7 million since last year, and that the commission unanimously approved a pay increase for his employees that, he said, made it easier to recruit new deputies.

He said the portion of his budget not covered by personnel and contractual obligations does not keep up with inflation.

“We work diligently to be as cost effective as possible and to be good stewards of taxpayers’ hard-earned income. I want to be sure you know the whole story and not just the manipulated numbers designed to confuse you,” the release said.

Bedford said he supports the pay increase and that Hayden should have corrected inferences that his office was being “defunded.”

But he also took issue with Hayden’s assertions at a June commission meeting that county commissioners had no say in how he spent his budget.

About the author

Roxie Hammill
Roxie Hammill

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.