Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins charged with voter fraud shortly before GOP debate

Watkins showed up for the primary debate despite the criminal charges and declared, "I haven't done anything wrong."

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By Dareh Gregorian and Haley Talbot

A House member from Kansas was slapped with voting fraud charges Tuesday about a half-hour before he took the stage in a Republican primary debate.

"I haven't done anything wrong," Rep. Steve Watkins said in the debate, sponsored by NBC affiliate KSNT of Topeka, calling the timing of the charges "very suspicious" and "highly political."

"I look forward to clearing my name. I have done nothing wrong and look forward to setting the record straight," he said.

Watkins said he hadn't yet seen the charges, which Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced shortly before Watkins' debate against his two challengers, Kansas media reported.

"This is clearly hyperpolitical," Watkins said.

The first question of the night, posed to all three challengers, was: "What is your response to the charges?"

Watkins, who was hit with three felony charges and a misdemeanor count, is accused of having used a Topeka UPS store as his registration address for the 2019 local city and school board election and voting in the wrong City Council district.

Watkins later listed the address for an apartment complex about 2 miles north of the UPS store as his residence, then corrected his voter registration form in mid-January to list an apartment number.

"As soon as I realized that I had put my mailing address instead of my physical address, we fixed it," Watkins said at the debate, adding that he'd cooperated with the DA's investigation.

Watkins is an honorary state co-chairman for the re-election campaign of President Donald Trump, who has often complained about voter fraud.

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Bryan Piligra, spokesman for Watkins' campaign, said of the charges, "Give us a break."

"Thirty minutes before the first televised debate and the day before early voting starts, the DA — who shares a political consultant with our primary opponent, Jake LaTurner — files these bogus charges. They couldn't have been more political if they tried," Piligra said.

"Just like President Trump, Steve is being politically prosecuted by his opponents who can't accept the results of the last election."

Kagay, a Republican, said the investigation was delayed significantly by coronavirus shutdowns, KSNT reported.

The district attorney's office didn't respond to a call for comment.

Associated Press contributed.