A criminal complaint filed against U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins alleges that he knowingly provided false information in February to a Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office detective.


The complaint, which was filed Tuesday afternoon in Shawnee County District Court and obtained Wednesday by The Topeka Capital-Journal, lists three felony charges and one misdemeanor related to the November 2019 election in which Watkins cast an advance ballot but wasn’t a candidate.


Included in the complaint are the names of several witnesses who may be called to testify, including Shawnee County election commissioner Andrew Howell and Topeka City Councilman Spencer Duncan.


Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay filed the charges shortly before a debate on KSNT on Tuesday evening in which Watkins was a participant.


Watkins has been charged with one felony count each of interference with law enforcement, voting without being qualified and unlawful advance voting and a misdemeanor count of no change of address on driver’s license.


An investigation, which began in late 2019, into the voter fraud allegations was significantly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kagay said.


"Law enforcement requested specific records in May," Kagay said in a statement to The Capital-Journal. "Those records were due in June. They were received in part, on Friday, July 10. We requested follow up be conducted on them Monday, July 13. We subsequently received the affidavit supporting charges yesterday morning, July 14."


University of Kansas emeritus professor of political science Burdett Loomis argued the occurrence of the district attorney’s office revealing the charges shortly before the debate was not a coincidence.


"The thing that I thought of immediately was ’What the heck is the D.A. doing right now, doing this right before a debate?’" Loomis said. "Honestly I think it’s outrageous. He could have done that anytime, he could have done it the next day, he could have done it — I don’t know when they were ready — but he did not have to do it then. I was born at night but not last night. You have to infer that there was political intent."


Loomis said at this point it isn’t possible to know how the charges may affect Watkins’ run for the Republican nomination.


"We’ve seen lots of Republicans, some Democrats, but more Republicans, who have been indicted survive primary challenges and general election challenges," Loomis said. "I think that Watkins can make a fair case that he is being discriminated against by Republicans who would not like to see him be the nominee."


Loomis, who noted he is "no great supporter" of Watkins, said he wouldn’t be shocked if the charges increase Watkins’ voter support.


"People will say ’OK, he did this, it was a mistake, certainly there might be consequences but he didn’t deserve to get slammed the way he got slammed last night,’" Loomis said.


While Loomis said he thinks the timing of the charges is an overtly political act, he thinks the indictment is within reason.


Michael Smith, a professor of political science at Emporia State University, said he thinks incidents in which political candidates are criminally charged affect how they may fare in an election.


Smith said voters would be more likely to recall the criminal charges against Watkins the closer they are to the primary elections.


In order to drop a bomb on Watkins, Smith said, the most effective way to do so would have been to announce the charges a few days before the elections.


Smith, who said he didn’t tune into Tuesday night’s debate but has followed the news coverage of the charges, added voters will take into account the criminal charges against Watkins, but how they do that is difficult to say.


Watkins, who is a strong supporter of President Donald Trump and vice versa, may be able to receive voter support from constituents who have backed Trump despite an impeachment, Smith said.


"So I think the question is does that carry over to allies of Trump," Smith said. "Can Steve Watkins play the card of ’the more I’m attacked, the more my base likes me’ or does that only apply to Trump?"