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Johnson County finally destroys old ballots, following KS law but defying Sheriff Hayden

Johnson County this week destroyed years-old ballots and election documents, a state-mandated procedure that defied the wishes of Sheriff Calvin Hayden, who pleaded for them to be preserved during his long-running elections investigation.

The conservative sheriff’s investigation, which began after the 2020 election, has produced no criminal charges. And tension between the sheriff and other county officials — who affirm the elections are safe and secure — has grown as the investigation energized conspiracy theorists and election deniers.

Johnson County had held off on destroying ballots from the 2019 election onward because of requests by Hayden, who has called them potential evidence. But recently, patience has appeared to wear thin.

County officials say they’ve received reminders from Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican, about state law requiring the county election commissioner to destroy the ballots. The county’s top lawyer asked Hayden late last year if he was still investigating and whether he had any objection to the ballot destruction.

Hayden urged the county to preserve the ballots, saying in a letter that the records were necessary to complete a “full investigation.” Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach joined the fight and asked the county to hold on to the election records, citing importance to Hayden’s investigation.

But Johnson County chief legal counsel Peg Trent hit back, asking Hayden whether he plans to obtain a search warrant to seize the ballots.

And the county plowed ahead. Commissioners previously voted to authorize Chairman Mike Kelly to appoint Republican and Democratic observers to watch over the ballot destruction.

Then this week, county spokesman Andy Hyland confirmed the election office finished shredding ballots and accompanying documents from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 elections.

McKenzi Davis, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said Hayden was not available to comment Thursday afternoon. A spokesperson for Kobach’s office did not immediately return The Star’s request for comment.

The ballot destruction comes as Hayden faces other pressures months before he himself be on the ballot. Hayden, who has filed for reelection, will face a primary challenge from Doug Bedford, a former undersheriff, in the race that so far has drawn one Democratic candidate, Prairie Village Police Chief Byron Roberson.

Last month, the election software company at the center of the sheriff’s investigation sent Hayden a strongly worded letter warning him of what could come from his ”baseless investigation.”

Attorney Rick Guinn, representing the company Konnech Inc. and its CEO Eugene Yu, sent the letter, which read: “Sheriff Hayden should be very careful about making public statements concerning Konnech and Mr. Yu to somehow justify his obvious waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Days before Guinn sent the letter, Los Angeles County agreed to pay $5 million to Yu, who sued over civil rights violations after he was arrested there in 2022 on accusations that he illegally stored poll worker data in China. The case was dropped a few weeks later, with the district attorney citing “potential bias” in the investigation.

Johnson County had used Konnech’s software to help manage election workers; the program had nothing to do with voting or voting information. The county stopped using the software in 2022.

While fighting for Johnson County’s old ballots to be preserved, the sheriff’s office made it clear in a letter the month before that Hayden continues to probe Konnech and accused the company of storing local election information in China.

The multi-million dollar settlement, Guinn wrote, “should send a strong message to Sheriff Hayden” about the consequences of an “investigation into nonexistent election fraud.”