Kris Kobach claimed to be the man behind President Donald Trump’s fixation on voter fraud, so it makes sense that Trump has appointed him vice chair of the new voter fraud commission established by executive order on Thursday. As part of Kobach’s role, the Kansas Secretary of State and immigration hard-liner will be investigating the president’s claim — widely disputed — that “millions of illegals” voted in the 2016 election.
The Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, to be led by Vice President Mike Pence, has a mission to “review policies and practices that enhance or undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of federal elections,” said Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the Thursday press briefing.
Some consider the stated mission suspect. “President Trump is attempting to spread his own fake news about election integrity,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, in a statement. “It is telling that the president’s choice to co-lead the commission is none other than Kris Kobach, one of the worst offenders of voter suppression in the nation today.”
Trump took to the idea of voter fraud like a duck to water, and even used the theory to justify why he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million. He raised the issue plenty of times on the campaign trail, and Kobach nurtured that fixation.
“I’ve advised him [Trump] on the issue of voter fraud in multiple forms,” Kobach told the Wichita Eagle in January. “I know that he is interested in investigating the issue on a national scale, but I also know that he would like to see the Justice Department launch specific investigations where there is real serious, specific evidence of voter fraud.”
Yet research has repeatedly shown that voter fraud is a non-issue. The Brennan Center for Justice published a report after the election showing that voting by non-citizens was rare, scattered, and largely accidental. “Rhetorical sloppiness fosters the misperception that fraud by voters is prevalent,” the report stated.
ProPublica has also weighed in, noting that there had been 1,000 instances of substantiated voter fraud out of more than a billion votes cast since 2000. And far from a coordinated efforts by undocumented immigrants, the types of election fraud tends to be wide-ranging, from people registering their pets to vote, to bereaved spouses voting on behalf of their significant others, to teenagers voting in their mother’s place because they couldn’t make it to the polling station on time.
KOBACH’S TIES TO ANTI-IMMIGRANT “HATE GROUPS”
The notion that undocumented immigrants are perverting the American democratic system by voting illicitly isn’t anything new. It’s one that anti-immigrant groups like the Federation for American Reform (FAIR) have touted for years. “Voting fraud is prevalent, though infrequently prosecuted,” FAIR wrote in a November 2016 newsletter. The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled FAIR a hate group in 2007, citing its “virulent and false attacks on nonwhite immigrants.”
Kobach, as it happens, has long-standing ties to groups like FAIR. He serves as legal counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute, FAIR’s litigation arm, which released a statement describing Kobach’s appointment to the voting commission as a “victory for the American people and the democratic process.”
“No one has shown greater commitment to voter integrity in this country than Secretary Kobach. His legal expertise, hard work, and devotion to the American people make him the perfect choice for this important role,” according to the statement.
VOTER ID LEGISLATION
Kobach is the only secretary of state in the U.S. who has prosecutorial power in election law (thanks to a bill passed by state legislators in 2015), and since taking office in 2011, he has filed nine cases against people accused of voting multiple times in different states. Six of those culminated in guilty pleas (all defendants were elderly and unaware that they had done anything wrong), one was dismissed, and two are pending, according to the Wichita Eagle.
Kobach has also implemented some of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country. In February, a civil rights panel advised that Kansas’ law requiring residents to present proof-of-citizenship when registering to vote, and photo IDs at voting booths (measures championed by Kobach) may discriminate against minorities, and violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
ARCHITECT OF ANTI-IMMIGRANT LAWS
Between 2006 and 2007, a handful of small cities in Pennsylvania, California, Missouri, and Nebraska passed a flurry of laws designed to target undocumented immigrants in those areas, including penalties for landlords who rented to non-citizens. Those laws were drafted with the counsel of Kobach, who reportedly saw those areas as testing grounds for larger-scale implementation of laws targeting undocumented populations. He also provided legal counsel when the laws were challenged by civil rights groups.
Kobach also helped draft the controversial SB 1070, an Arizona state law that essentially sanctioned racial profiling of Latinos. That provision of the law was eventually ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.