Kansas Constitution Amendment on Sheriffs: What would it do, who supports it, who opposes it?

TOPEKA — A constitutional amendment on the November ballot would take away local attorneys’ ability to investigate sheriffs.

Some citizens and lawyers worry that Kansas voters don’t know the full implications of rewriting the constitution to eliminate the ability of local county deputies to bring lawsuits against local sheriffs if they believe misconduct has occurred.

What is the Sheriff Election Addendum?

That amendment would require counties that elected sheriffs in January 2022 to continue to elect sheriffs — meaning the position of sheriff could never be appointed. The exception would be Riley County, which abolished the sheriff’s office after the consolidation of city and county agencies in 1974.

The amendment would also state that district governors can only be removed from office by appeal or if the attorney general questions their right to hold office. This change would remove the ability of local district attorneys to investigate the actions of sheriffs.

Sheriffs in Kansas are elected to four-year terms. Under state law, voters can remove a sheriff by presenting a petition containing the signatures of at least 40% of the voters in the most recent election for sheriff. After the signatures are approved, the recall election is held.

Currently, district attorneys, along with the attorney general, can initiate legal proceedings if they believe there has been misconduct in the sheriff’s office. The lawyer can then present the case to a judge, who would ultimately decide whether there was misconduct or not.

Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden gives a speech on voter fraud in June.  (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden gives a speech on voter fraud in June. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Why is it on the ballot?

The amendment is in response to the debate in Johnson County about having a sheriff appointed to the position. Sheriff Calvin Hayden has been criticized for leading a criminal investigation into bogus voter fraud. He also said he will create an “army” of his employees to defend Kansans against the Internal Service Revenue.

At the end of April, the legislature approved the final version of the text of the amendment as House Concurrent Resolution 5022. The resolution passed 91:31 in the House and 39:1 in the Senate. The governor does not have the power to veto proposed constitutional amendments. Since the two-thirds threshold was met in both chambers, the voters will decide on the amendment.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt lobbied for the amendment and continues to support it.

“The office of sheriff has deep historical roots, and the long-standing practice of election, not appointment, makes sheriffs uniquely accountable to the people,” Schmidt said during a debate on the amendment in April.

Who supports the amendment?

In addition to Schmidt, the GOP candidate for governor on the November ballot, the Kansas Sheriffs’ Association and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office have been some of the more vocal supporters.

The Kansas Sheriffs Association said the amendment would give voters more power and allow them to hold sheriffs directly accountable for their actions. In testimony presented by the association in March, the association said Kansans should be allowed to vote for their sheriffs.

“Sheriffs should be elected by the citizens they serve, not appointed by other elected officials or board appointees. The duties of a sheriff differ greatly from the duties and responsibilities of a police chief,” the testimony reads.

The association said there have been past conflicts of interest with local district attorneys investigating sheriffs.

“This would shift the responsibility for exclusion proceedings to the public prosecutor’s office. A conflict of interest would thus be eliminated,” she says in her testimony.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office was criticized last week for spreading misinformation after it posted a Facebook post saying, “Voting NO on Amendment 2 would take away your right to vote for your local sheriff.

That part of the statement was removed after residents complained it was inaccurate: No current constitutional protections are at stake. An edited version is still posted on the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

The post reads: “The Sheriff’s Office has received a number of inquiries regarding the proposed Sheriff’s Ballot Amendment. Just for clarification purposes, this is a simple breakdown: A YES vote on Amendment 2 would preserve your right to elect your local sheriff.”

Why are people protesting this amendment?

The first part of the amendment, electing and retaining the sheriff, could keep the controversial Hayden in his position.

But it is the second part of the amendment that bothers district prosecutors and lawyers the most, because it could lead to abuse of authority.

Under this amendment, the district attorney could choose not to investigate sheriffs they liked and played favorites in the investigation. With no other way to hold sheriffs accountable, hypothetically a sheriff involved in misconduct could remain in office and be re-elected.

The The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas criticized the amendment, saying it was partisan and a threat to Kansas democracy. Amii Castle, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Kansas and founder of the ACLU student group on campus, said at a panel discussion Thursday hosted by several voting rights groups that the amendment is problematic.

Castle said local attorneys who worked with the county sheriff and were familiar with their actions were best equipped to raise the alarm about possible wrongdoing, rather than just the attorney general, who works out of Topeka and most likely would not have the same standing. familiarity with the situation.

“At the end of the day, the sheriff’s amendment would take power away from our local county attorneys and concentrate that power in one office,” Castle said.

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