Monday’s New York Times used a new White House office to go after a conservative who represents two of the things it most loathes: limits on immigration and crackdowns on vote fraud. Both trends are encapsulated in the person of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Reporters Michael Wines and Julie Bosman penned: “A ‘Passionate’ Seeker of Voter Fraud in Kansas Gets a National Soapbox.”
Kris W. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, oversees an office whose clerical and regulatory work costs the state’s taxpayers barely $5.5 million a year. But he has parlayed that modest post into a national platform for tough restrictions on voting rights and immigration, becoming both a celebrated voice within the Republican Party and a regular target of lawsuits by civil rights advocates.
Now, as vice chairman of the new Advisory Commission on Election Integrity announced by the White House on Thursday (Vice President Mike Pence is the titular chairman), Mr. Kobach has a far bigger soapbox for his views on voter fraud -- which Republicans, including President Trump, call a cancer on democracy. Others say it is a pretense for discouraging the poor, minorities and other typically Democratic-leaning voters from casting ballots.
Academic studies regularly show -- and most state election officials agree -- that fraud is rare, and that the kind of fraud Republicans seek to address with voter ID laws is minuscule.
The Times ran a similar attack on those same topics in October 2014, when it smelled Kobach electoral vulnerability (Kobach won that election, so presumably someone outside the NYT bubble thinks he’s talking sense.)
Mr. Kobach promised an impartial inquiry into election vulnerabilities during an interview on Friday, saying the commission would “go where the facts take us.” But in Kansas, the facts appear at best mixed, and critics say he is one of the most partisan and polarizing figures imaginable to preside over a fair inquiry on voter fraud.
Since taking office in 2011, he has persuaded the Kansas Legislature to enact some of the nation’s most rigorous voting restrictions and to give him special authority to enforce them. The result has been a campaign against supposedly unchecked voting fraud, particularly by immigrants.
Most fraud claims, however, have proved vaporous, and convictions are sparse -- nine since 2015 and only one of them a foreigner -- and placed a heavy burden on ordinary citizens. In striking down some of Kansas’ voting rules in 2016, a federal court said restrictive registration requirements had denied more than 18,000 Kansans their constitutional right to cast ballots.
This from the same paper that has been breathlessly insinuating for months that Russia tilted the election toward Trump, and which signed on to Jill Stein’s doomed recount attempt in only swing states that put Trump over the top.
In an editorial this month, The Kansas City Star mockingly called Mr. Kobach “the Javert of voter fraud,” after the ham-handed detective in “Les Miserables,” wasting tax dollars on “his own single-minded pursuit.”
Mr. Kobach is undeterred. In November, he echoed President Trump’s baseless claim that he would have won the popular vote but for ballots cast by millions of illegal voters. And he has said that the few illegally registered foreigners he claims to have identified in Kansas are but the “tip of the iceberg” of fraudulent votes by immigrants.
His critics are contemptuous. “He’s a person who has built a political career on xenophobia,” said Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s worked great for him, but not for the people he has disenfranchised.”
Mr. Kobach called the xenophobia charge outrageous.
The Times finally conceded that he might be a “pleasant colleague,” although he was a “fish-out-of-water conservative” at liberal Yale.
Mr. Kobach’s views on immigration now are decidedly hard-line. He has long advised the legal affiliate of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a powerful anti-immigration lobby denounced by some civil liberty advocates for its past ties to white nationalism.
Later came the name-calling.
Mr. Kobach has said he is working to preserve the nation’s “sovereignty,” telling Newsweek in 2011 that “you can’t have open immigration and a welfare state.” But opponents have used some of his actions to brand him a nativist and even a racist.
The Times worked overtime to squash any hint that Kobach may be onto something with his vote fraud concerns.
Mr. Kobach has since declared victory in the fraud wars, claiming on Friday to have uncovered 125 illegally registered noncitizens out of 1.8 million Kansans on the voting rolls. But court documents filed in one Kansas lawsuit suggested that confusion, not fraud, was at issue in many cases...
Mr. Kobach said he was mystified by his critics’ opposition to the new electoral integrity commission. Those who say fraud is almost nonexistent “should be glad that this commission is being formed,” he said, “because then the commission would confirm their predictions.”
Critics say his selection as leader almost guarantees a different conclusion. “Whenever I hear Kris Kobach use the words ‘voter fraud,’ what that means in English for regular old folks is voter suppression,” Mr. Ward said. “Most secretaries of state see their job to be a fair arbiter of elections. Kris has believed that the secretary of state is a partisan tool to affect the results of elections.”