JoCo Sheriff Hayden lied about having warrant to seize old ballots for election probe

At a GOP candidate forum on Saturday, Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden falsely claimed he was about to serve a search warrant to seize old ballots for his long-running elections investigation right as the county destroyed them.

“As we stand here today, we had a search warrant in hand and had talked with the district attorney and we were working on getting the documents needed when they decided in a hurry to destroy the records,” Hayden, who is running for reelection, said at the event at Johnson County Republican Party headquarters, according to reporting by the Shawnee Mission Post.

But Melody Webb, a spokeswoman with the Johnson County district attorney, said the office is “unaware of any search warrant being submitted to a judge for review.”

That’s despite Hayden having roughly three months to do so, after county officials in late November warned him they would move forward with the ballot destruction to comply with state law. The county’s top attorney shortly after asked Hayden if he planned to obtain a warrant.

The sheriff’s Republican primary opponent, Doug Bedford, a former undersheriff who also spoke at Saturday’s forum, has called on Hayden to show proof of his claim.

“Under Kansas law, search warrants must be executed within 96 hours. The warrant would also be dated and timed, so Hayden could produce it to support his claim,” Bedford, who is running in the Aug. 6 primary, said in an email to The Star.

“I find it very unlikely he had a warrant and did not act. Sheriff Hayden has run his re-election campaign on election fraud, and to not act when he could finally prove himself correct is very odd.”

When asked, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said, “This is an open investigation so we can’t release any information at this time.”

In addition to Hayden’s most recent public comments, the sheriff has regularly promoted his investigation at right-wing conferences and events.

The years-old ballots have been at the center of a protracted political battle in Johnson County for the past few months. Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican who joined Hayden in urging the county to preserve the ballots, is now crafting a legal opinion on whether the election office had the authority to destroy the election materials amid a criminal investigation.

Kansas law requires the regular destruction of ballots.

But the county hadn’t destroyed ballots since 2019 per requests by Hayden, who called them evidence as he continues his probe of an election software company previously used by the county to manage poll workers. His investigation has produced no criminal charges while energizing election deniers.

County officials said late last year they were receiving reminders from Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican, to destroy ballots in compliance with state law. The county’s top lawyer asked Hayden if he was still investigating and whether he had any objection to the ballot destruction.

Hayden urged the county to preserve the ballots. And Kobach joined the fight and asked the county to hold on to the election records, citing importance to Hayden’s investigation.

Then in early December, Johnson County chief legal counsel Peg Trent asked Hayden whether he planned to obtain a search warrant to seize the ballots. Otherwise, the county would move forward with destruction, per Kansas law.

When no such warrant was served, Johnson County Election Commissioner Fred Sherman’s office in late February shredded the ballots from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 elections.

Kansas state Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican, in January asked Kobach to issue a formal opinion on the ballot destruction. Emails obtained by The Star show that Johnson County Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara sent a similar request in December.

“Would this destruction of evidence, noted and identified by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, constitute a criminal offense/action?” O’Hara asked.

Trent argued in a letter that the “Attorney General Opinion process is being inappropriately utilized for potential criminal prosecution of the Johnson County Election Commissioner.”

Schwab, who oversees the state’s elections, has maintained that election officials have no authority to disregard state law absent a court order.

Both the county and district attorney’s office say Hayden did not obtain such order.

Meanwhile, Hayden has continued to say at public events that his investigation is moving forward.

Bedford took a jab at Hayden, saying in an email the sheriff has “had years to produce results based on ‘evidence’ provided by members of the public but has yet to have any of his investigations result in criminal charges.”

Bedford said if he were to take office, he would review the case to determine whether there is evidence to move forward with criminal charges. But if “there is no evidence of a crime, I would be duty bound to end the investigation.”

Hayden, who has spent 28 years in the sheriff’s office and previously served as a county commissioner, ran unopposed for sheriff in both 2016 and 2020. The sheriff’s race has so far drawn one Democratic challenger, Prairie Village Police Chief Byron Roberson.

Includes reporting by The Star’s Jonathan Shorman.