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July 27, 2021

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EDITORIAL:

Cries of voter fraud should be aimed at those committing it: Republicans

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John Hanna / AP

In this Aug. 26, 2019, photo, U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins, R-Kan., makes a point during a town hall meeting, in Topeka, Kan. Watkins, a freshman Kansas congressman who had listed a UPS Inc. store as his residence on a voter registration, was criminally charged Tuesday, July 14, 2020, with four crimes, including unlawful voting.

The next time you hear a Republican scare-mongering Americans about voter fraud, remember the name Steve Watkins.

Watkins, a GOP congressman from Kansas, was charged this week with three counts of voter fraud, becoming the latest in a long line of Republicans proving that their party is the real threat to the integrity of American elections. Not undocumented immigrants, not some shadowy group of liberal conspiracists, not Democrats, but the GOP.

In December, The Topeka Capital-Journal exposed Watkins for using a UPS office in that city as his home address in order to register for a 2019 municipal election.

Watkins, borrowing from President Donald Trump’s playbook, played the victim card, saying he had been targeted in a political hit job. The issue with the address, he claimed, was a simple mistake.

Sure. Who hasn’t had a brain blip and listed a UPS store as their home address, right?

Nobody but Watkins, of course. And keep in mind, this apparently wasn’t a matter of absent-mindedly transposing a couple of numbers in a street address or mistakenly writing down “Road” instead of “Avenue.” Watkins lived in a completely different city council district than the UPS store.

Even some Kansas Republicans were incensed.

“Unless I’m mistaken, no one can live at a UPS store. It cannot be a place of residence,” conservative state Rep. Blake Carpenter told the Capital-Journal. “This person undoubtedly voted in an election in November for candidates that he had no constitutional right to vote for. This is wrong and illegal. No one should be above the law.”

Correct, but unfortunately such voices of responsibility and respect for the law are increasingly rare in the Trump-era Republican Party.

When Republicans like Watkins aren’t committing outright violations of voting laws, they’re engaging in wholesale gerrymandering and voter suppression. Among many, many examples:

• Just days before Watkins was charged, a West Virginia postal carrier pleaded guilty to mail and election fraud, confessing he switched the political affiliation on several ballots from Democrat to Republican.

• In 2018, when current Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp was secretary of state, he threw out 53,000 voter registration applications, mostly from Black voters, because the names weren’t an “exact match” with other records. It was a tactic straight out of the Jim Crow era, when white officials used an array of technicalities to prevent African Americans from voting.

• To corrupt the 2018 general election, North Carolina Republicans hired a felon, Leslie McCrae Dowless, who assembled a team that went door-to-door to mostly Black voters in a rural county to “help” them with their ballots — then allegedly forged signatures, wrote in candidate choices and trashed some ballots.

• Wisconsin Republicans prevented postponement of this year’s primary election and extension of mail-in voting despite the COVID-19 pandemic, then rigged the system so that only five of 180 polling sites were open in Milwaukee. Black and Hispanic voters were disproportionately affected, but turned out in strong numbers in defiance of the GOP.

• Last year in Ohio, two Republicans were charged with distributing phony sample ballots that officials say were designed to trick voters into believing they’d already cast genuine ballots.

Now comes Watkins, who allegedly listed the UPS store address as his residence on his official Kansas voter registration form and on two other election documents. The Capital-Journal further reported that under Kansas statute, “residence” is defined as “the place chosen to be a person’s place of habitation or where, when absent, the person had expressed an intent to return.”

Watkins has offered a pathetic cover story, claiming he just made an oopsie-daisy and wrote down his campaign mailing address instead of his residential address. Oh, please — on three different documents? And we’re supposed to believe that an Army veteran and West Point graduate is this clueless to instructions and detail?

That’s today’s GOP, though, led by a man who is taking the party’s attack on elections to a national scale with his false claims of widespread fraud and his prediction that November will be the most corrupt vote in U.S. history.

Americans need to watch the members of this destructive party very carefully in the next four months. Then, to protect further elections, voters need to kick them out of office.