Kris Kobach’s crusade against immigrants depresses voting among U.S. citizens

Handshakes were all around after Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill authorizing Secretary of State Kris Kobach (standing) to prosecute suspected voter fraud.
Handshakes were all around after Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill authorizing Secretary of State Kris Kobach (standing) to prosecute suspected voter fraud. The Associated Press

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach had himself quite a time last week.

▪ There he was, finally announcing the first fruits of his investigation into what he had billed as widespread voter fraud in Kansas centered around illegal aliens.

The targets: three U.S. citizens, all of them in their 60s, who allegedly voted in two states in the same election.

▪ Next thing, Kobach was sparring with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who took time out from campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination to criticize him for “harsh voting restrictions” on Kansas residents. That would be the “proof of citizenship” requirement that has prevented at least 36,000 would-be Kansas voters from obtaining registrations.

“Every time an alien votes, it cancels out the vote of a U.S. citizen,” Kobach shot back. “But Hillary doesn’t seem to care about that.”

Maybe because, for all of his bluster, Kobach has yet to produce evidence that an undocumented immigrant has actually voted in Kansas.

▪ And far from Kansas, the small city of Hazleton, Pa., was ordered to pay $1.4 million in attorney fees and court costs to the American Civil Liberties Union and other lawyers who successfully argued that a 2006 ordinance the city drafted upon Kobach’s advice was unconstitutional.

The law penalized businesses that hired illegal immigrants and landlords who rented to them. Courts ruled that it wrongly usurped federal immigration law. Hazleton is now trying to work out a payment plan with the opposing attorneys to avoid large tax increases or bankruptcy.

Hazleton learned the hard way about the consequences of following the supremely confident but often mistaken Kobach down his anti-immigrant rabbit hole. The Kansas Legislature, unfortunately, never seems to figure out that leading the nation in voter suppression at Kobach’s behest is a terrible idea.

To be fair, plenty of lawmakers, including some Democrats, were on board with Kobach when they passed a 2011 law requiring people to produce a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship in order to complete their voter registrations.

At the time, no one realized the tough new requirement would clash with the federal “motor voter” law, which requires states to make voter registration forms available at motor vehicle offices. Those forms don’t require proof of citizenship.

Kansans have also run into barriers while trying to register at places like the Kansas State Fair. This being America, most people don’t carry birth certificates or passports around with them in the off chance they’ll have to prove their citizenship.

And so first-time voter registration in Kansas essentially has become a two-step process. You can fill out a form on the spot, but you’ll have to go through additional steps to prove your citizenship to local election officials.

Until recently, at least 36,000 persons in Kansas were listed as having voter registrations “in suspense,” and requiring more documentation. But this month, under orders from Kobach, county election officials began removing people from the rolls if they’d been there more than 90 days. If they want to vote, they’ll have to start the process over again.

Kobach and Kansas are facing a federal lawsuit brought by two voters who did not compete their registration. They argue that Kansas is violating federal law by purging would-be voters from the rolls.

Legal questions aside, there is something fundamentally wrong when a state and elected officials go out of their way to make voting difficult for citizens. The hurdles the state has enacted since 2011 are far out of proportion to any voter fraud problems that have been detected in Kansas or anywhere in the nation.

Analyses of the rolls of suspended voters show that younger people are most affected. More than 40 percent are younger than 30, according to the Wichita Eagle.

Kobach and his defenders argue that these people could complete their registrations easily enough by visiting their county election office or emailing a copy of a citizenship document. But by erecting that bureaucratic hurdle, they are ensuring that voter registration rates will be lower than if the onerous requirement did not exist.

Kansas lawmakers this year also allowed Kobach to become the nation’s only secretary of state with the jurisdiction to prosecute voter fraud cases.

That resulted this week in misdemeanor charges being filed against Betty M. Gaedtke and Steven K. Gaedtke, who allegedly voted in Johnson County and Arkansas in the 2010 general election. The couple apparently now lives in Arkansas, and Johnson County officials had declined to prosecute their case.

The other case involves felony charges brought against Lincoln W. Wilson, who is accused of voting in both Kansas and Colorado in three separate elections.

Americans only get one vote per election, and it is rather surprising that other authorities didn’t crack down earlier on Wilson, who has acknowledged voting in both states.

But nothing Kobach has produced so far justifies the draconian measures the Legislature has passed to suppress voting in Kansas. By pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment — Kobach’s specialty — the state of Kansas is discouraging thousands of U.S. citizens from claiming their right to vote.