Government & Politics

Former Olathe couple among those charged with voter fraud by Kris Kobach

The Kansas secretary of state’s office recently filed three cases alleging voter fraud.
The Kansas secretary of state’s office recently filed three cases alleging voter fraud.

An Olathe couple charged in a Kansas voter fraud case made a voting mistake during the confusion of a retirement move to Arkansas, their lawyer said Wednesday.

“They’re very good people,” said Trey Pettlon. He is representing Steven and Betty Gaedtke in the cases filed against them recently by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Pettlon said the couple applied for advance voting ballots in Johnson County for the 2010 general election and submitted them.

Meanwhile, they were traveling back and forth between their Olathe home and their new residence in Arkansas over several months, sorting and moving their belongings. During that time, they voted in person in Arkansas.

“It was a stressful time for them and in the confusion they made a mistake,” Pettlon said. “They weren’t stuffing ballot boxes or anything.”

The secretary of state’s office recently filed three cases in the launch of Kobach’s promised crackdown on voter fraud. Steven Gaedtke, 60, and Betty Gaedtke, 61, were charged with misdemeanors for allegedly casting 2010 general election ballots in both Kansas and Arkansas.

A conservative Republican, Kobach has made voter fraud a top priority, vowing to fight it with tougher registration laws and prosecutions. The Kansas Legislature last session granted Kobach the power to prosecute voter fraud cases, the only secretary of state in the nation with such authority.

Kobach argued that he needed prosecutorial authority because county district attorneys often don’t have the time and resources to devote to voter fraud. Critics have said that voter fraud is extremely rare and, when it happens, typically minor in nature.

A court date for the Gaedtkes’ cases was set for Dec. 3.

Steven Gaedtke is a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force, Pettlon said. Betty Gaedtke volunteers as a domestic violence educator. They built a cabin in the Arkansas Ozarks for their retirement, he said.

The 2010 election was not a presidential election year, so the Gaedtkes weren’t voting twice for the same candidates, Pettlon said.

“They didn’t intend to do anything illegal,” he said. “They have a long track record of being good citizens.”

Kobach’s office also filed a case against Lincoln L. Wilson, 64, in Sherman County in northwest Kansas for allegedly voting in both Kansas and Colorado. Wilson and the Gaedtkes were registered as Republicans.

Edward M. Eveld: 816-234-4442, @EEveld