Rep. Steve Watkins, a Republican from Kansas, was charged on July 14 with three felonies and a misdemeanor linked to a probe into whether he voted illegally in a municipal election last year.
The charges, which stem from Watkins registering to vote using the address of a UPS storefront, were announced by Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay on July 14, shortly before Watkins was scheduled to appear in a televised debate with two GOP challengers.
It came just weeks before his first primary to defend his congressional seat.
Kagay filed multiple felony counts against Watkins, which stem from a ballot he allegedly cast in the Topeka City Council election in November 2019. The charges include interference with law enforcement; providing false information; voting without being qualified; and unlawful advance voting. Watkins also was charged with a misdemeanor for failing to inform the Department of Motor Vehicles about a change of address.
Watkins dismissed the charges as “clearly hyper-political” and the timing as “suspicious.” They were announced about 45 minutes before GOP candidates for the 2nd Congressional District were due to debate on television.
“We’ve cooperated with the district attorney completely,” Watkins said. “I look forward to clearing my name. Truly, the timing is suspicious.”
For the local election last year, Watkins in August used the address of a Topeka UPS store on his voter registration, before signing an application for a mail-in ballot in October. He also allegedly voted in the wrong city council district.
At the time, Watkins’s office said he had made an error and filled in his campaign’s mailing address instead of his home address.
In December 2019, he changed the address to an apartment complex in the city, about two miles north of the UPS store, but it was the address for the complex’s office. That address was not in the same city council district as the UPS store but in a district with no council race last year.
In January, Watkins filed another form listing another address for an apartment in the same complex as his residence.
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” Watkins said at the start of the July 14 debate. “As soon as I realized that I had put my mailing address instead of my physical address, we fixed it.”
“I’ll get my name exonerated,” he said during his closing statement.
Watkins’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
The most serious criminal charge accuses Watkins of voting in the 2019 local city and school board election without being qualified. A first-time offender who’s convicted could face a year in prison, though the more typical sentence would be two years’ probation.
Kagay also charged Watkins with voting illegally in advance and interfering with law enforcement by providing false information. Both felonies could bring up to seven months in prison, though a year’s probation is the presumed sentence.
Kagay’s announcement didn’t provide details about the alleged crimes, and the district attorney said in an email that he couldn’t discuss them “until they are presented in open court.” No hearings have been scheduled yet.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.