Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach kicked off the first meeting of President Donald Trump’s voting commission by citing more than 100 cases of noncitizens trying to register or registering to vote in Kansas.
“We have discovered 128 specific cases of noncitizens who either registered to vote or attempting to register to vote. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. One expert in the case estimated the total number could be in excess of 18,000 on our voter rolls,” Kobach said Wednesday at the Washington, D.C., meeting.
Critics questioned the accuracy of that number and said that even if it were correct, it would be miniscule compared with the total number of Kansas voters, 1.8 million.
In an interview on MSNBC after the meeting, Kobach, a candidate for Kansas governor, said that “we may never know” whether Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote over Trump because of voter fraud. Pressed on whether this meant the votes that led to Trump’s election were also in doubt, Kobach replied, “Absolutely.”
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Kobach, who is serving as vice chairman of Trump’s election integrity commission, said Americans have had lingering doubts for some time about elections. He used the Kansas figure to bolster his longtime assertion that voter fraud is a significant problem nationwide.
Trump created the voting commission after claiming — without evidence — that millions of people had voted illegally and deprived him of a popular-vote victory. He has argued specifically that fraud denied him a win in three states: California, New Hampshire and Virginia.
The commission has sought troves of data on voters, including names, addresses and partial Social Security numbers, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Despite criticism from most states about the request for voters’ personal information, half have said they will deliver some or all of that data to the White House commission.
“If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about,” Trump said, questioning the motives of states that have not complied. “What are they worried about? There’s something. There always is.”
The data requests have alarmed some voting rights groups, which say they think the administration will try to kick people off voter rolls.
“This fishing expedition for voter information is intended to lead to more voter suppression — not improving our election process,” said League of Women Voters President Chris Carson, who says thousands of voters have canceled their registrations since the requests were made.
Republican and Democratic election officials in most states have criticized the commission for asking for public data on the nation’s 200 million registered voters, including full names, addresses, birth dates, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, voting history, party affiliations and other personal information.
The request spurred legal action. Earlier this month, the commission asked states to delay sending any information pending a court ruling.
Kobach and other members acknowledged that they intend to compare the data collected from states against each other as well as federal databases for felons, undiscovered noncitizens and people who vote in more than one state.
“If you don’t have the voter rolls, you really can’t even begin to assess the accuracy,” Kobach said after the commission’s first in-person meeting. “You are blind. You don’t have the ability to assess the credibility of evidence brought before the commission.”
Figure from affidavit
Kobach’s claim that 128 people registered or attempted to register illegally in Kansas is based on a search conducted by the secretary of state’s office. Kobach offered no names and did not say whether any of the people had voted. He also did not say whether his office was prosecuting any of the people.
A March affidavit by an assistant secretary of state contained in court documents filed Friday in a federal lawsuit against Kobach said he had found 125 noncitizens who had either tried to register or had registered. The figure is for both before and after implementation of the state’s proof of citizenship voter registration law in 2013.
The affidavit, from Bryan Caskey, does not say how many cases were attempted registrations and how many were successful registrations. It also does not say whether the people went on to cast votes.
Kobach spokeswoman Samantha Poetter referred reporters to the affidavit and said three more cases of noncitizens had been discovered since it was signed in March. She didn’t answer questions about how many of the 128 were successful registrations or attempted registrations.
In the affidavit, Caskey outlined how he identified the cases. A Jan. 30, 2017, comparison of noncitizen driver’s licenses and the state’s voter information system found 79 who either had tried to register or had registered.
An additional 34 were identified by the Sedgwick County Election Office when staff attended naturalization ceremonies to register new citizens and discovered that some were already registered. Additional searches — such as a review of jury questionnaire forms — produced the other cases.
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project, cast doubt on the figure.
Ho said that Kobach had provided few concrete details about the people he says tried to register illegally and that many of the cases appear to be the result of DMV workers mistakenly asking noncitizens if they wanted to register.
Ho said the ACLU had verified that in at least one of the cases, the person checked the box on a registration form saying they were a noncitizen, which kept them from registering. Ho said this was an example of the system working properly without extra restrictions.
The time frame for those cases stretches back at least 16 years, Ho said.
“Even if you take it at face value, it’s frankly pretty small compared to the 1.8 million voters in Kansas,” Ho said.
The 18,000 number cited by Kobach of potential noncitizens registered to vote in Kansas matches the number in a report by Jesse Richman, a professor at Old Dominion University in Virginia who wrote an expert report for Kobach in the proof of citizenship lawsuit.
Richman estimated the number of noncitizens who have registered to vote or attempted to register could range from 6,000 to 18,000. Critics say Richman’s work is based on flawed methodology.
Four Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who serves as the chairman of the commission and attended the first meeting, asking for Kobach to be removed from the group given his repeated and unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud. They also told Pence the commission should withdraw its information requests.
Trump said Wednesday that more than 30 states have agreed to share the requested information, but Pence’s office did not respond to a request for a full list of those states.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which has collected public statements from all 50 states, 17 states have agreed to provide the commission with data allowable by state law, including Florida, North Carolina and Washington. Eight additional states have indicated they would release the information if certain conditions are met. Most, if not all, will withhold Social Security numbers.
Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said the commission could engage in a “never-ending amount of mischief” even with partial information, including compiling lists of those who they claim are in the country illegally or who have registered twice.
Ho said the aggregation, transmission and storage of the data poses some privacy and security concerns.
“Even if we’re talking about publicly available data, there’s a big difference between data that’s scattered throughout 50 states and data that is centralized in one location,” Ho said. “It becomes a juicy target.”
Kobach said he does not anticipate suing any states for the information but will approach states’ officials and ask them what it will take to turn over the information.
The Star’s Bryan Lowry and Hunter Woodall contributed to this report.