Ethics panel opens probe into Rep. Watkins after voter fraud charges

Ethics panel opens probe into Rep. Watkins after voter fraud charges
© Greg Nash

The House Ethics Committee said Thursday that it has opened an investigation into Rep. Steve WatkinsSteven (Steve) Charles WatkinsEthics panel opens probe into Rep. Watkins after voter fraud charges The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Virus bill unlikely to pass this week MORE (R-Kan.) after he was charged with voter fraud last month.

The Ethics Committee said in a statement that it is investigating allegations that Watkins falsely reported information to law enforcement; voted in a district where he wasn't registered; knowingly marked more than one advance voting ballot; and neglected to notify the proper local authority of a change of address.

Watkins lost his GOP primary last week, ending his attempt to run for a second term.

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Watkins's primary loss also means that he'll no longer be under the Ethics Committee's jurisdiction once his term ends at the beginning of January 2021.

If a lawmaker is indicted or charged with criminal conduct, under its rules the Ethics Committee must either open a formal investigation or issue a report to the House explaining why not within 30 days.

A spokesperson for Watkins didn't immediately return a request for comment.

Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced last month that he was charging Watkins with providing false information, voting without being qualified and unlawful advance voting, which are all felonies. Watkins was also charged with a misdemeanor of failing to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of a change in address.

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, authorities said that Watkins changed his residency in August 2019, signed a mail-in ballot application and signed a document to cast his vote for the general election that November. Watkins used the address of a UPS store as his residential address, which his office later said was a mistake.

The erroneous address change moved Watkins to the wrong city council district, where he participated in an election last November that was decided by only 13 votes.

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Following the voter fraud charges last month, Watkins stepped down from his committee assignments in line with House GOP conference rules that require lawmakers who have been indicted on a felony charge and face more than two years of jail time to relinquish their committee positions.

Watkins was a member of the Foreign Affairs, Education and Labor, and the Veterans' Affairs committees.

Watkins ultimately lost the GOP primary last week to Jake LaTurner, the Kansas state treasurer. 

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, currently rates the district as "likely" to remain in GOP control in the November general election.