Democracy loses, but Kris Kobach stays winning
Even against the yardstick of his own scary achievements, Kris Kobach is having quite a month.
He just finished stamping his hate-filled brand of conservatism onto the national Republican Party Platform. The fantasy of a wall along the Mexican border, an ongoing resistance to same-sex marriage, the insistence on unrestrained access to assault weapons — these Kobachian hallmarks are on their way to becoming the GOP’s official positions.
And as he strutted around Cleveland like a vigilante peacock, the man who occupies Kansas’ secretary of state’s office — but who doesn’t deserve the title — made his presence felt at home, too. The multitasker won another round in his ongoing effort to deny voting rights to the citizens he’s sworn to enfranchise.
Never mind rulings by a Kansas district judge and a federal judge saying Kobach can’t limit Kansans’ voting rights. He still plans not to count nearly 20,000 votes in upcoming state and local races.
Kobach’s unconstitutional scheme — his so-called Secure and Fair Elections law — is and always has been grotesque political theater, a blatant attempt to curb voting among immigrants, minorities and college students. His latest block: Subjecting about 17,000 Kansans to a bifurcated election on August 2. Their votes for federal offices will count, but their choices in local and state races will be thrown out.
These are people who registered to vote at the state’s motor-vehicle offices. The National Voter Registration Act, known as the “motor voter” law, requires states to make registration forms available at those locations. But the federal forms don’t mandate that would-be voters produce documentation proving they are U.S. citizens. The reason is obvious: Not many people carry their passports or birth certificates with them when they go to renew their driver’s licenses.
Kobach in 2011 persuaded a malleable Kansas Legislature to pass a harsh statute requiring Kansans to produce proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Havoc ensued at county election offices as registrations arrived from motor-vehicle offices without the citizenship documentation. The law resulted in hundreds of Kansans being turned away from the polls at the crucial 2014 state elections or having their votes thrown out, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law. Thousands more citizens likely stayed home or didn’t attempt to register because of the added paperwork requirements.
The same scenario is shaping up for the statewide August primary and the November 8 general election.
The Secretary of Suppression keeps getting his way, even though he has failed to produce a whiff of evidence that people who aren’t U.S. citizens have ever cast votes in Kansas. (Kobach’s herculean efforts to uncover voter fraud have exposed only a handful of unfortunate senior citizens who voted in two states in the same election.)
His list of enablers starts with the Kansas Legislature. Lawmakers passed Kobach’s bill in 2011 knowing that the proof-of-citizenship requirement would suppress registration at traditional places such as libraries and county fairs. But they never attempted to fix the conflict between state and federal voting laws.
The Suppressor received a huge assist when former Johnson County elections commissioner Brian Newby took an important federal job. Known as a straight shooter while in Johnson County, Newby last fall became executive director of the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission — and promptly overturned the commission’s opposition to Kansas’ proof-of-citizenship requirement. The Associated Press then uncovered sycophantic e-mails in which Newby thanked Kobach for helping him land his new job and pledged his support.
Other enablers include members of the Kansas Rules and Regulations Board — a group of state officials that last week sneakily passed an “emergency” rule allowing the two-tiered voting system, though a federal judge had issued a temporary injunction in May saying it was unconstitutional.
Even the Shawnee County judge who has twice issued rulings rejecting Kobach’s punitive voting scheme has unwittingly provided aid and comfort to the Suppressor. Judge Franklin Theis could issue an injunction blocking Kobach from disqualifying voters, but he hasn’t.
It goes without saying that Gov. Sam Brownback hasn’t interceded to stop the assault on voting rights in his state. He’s been in the Suppressor’s corner all along.
It appears now that only dramatic intervention from a court can stop another travesty in Kansas. On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit, hoping to get that process started. In Cleveland, Kobach just boasted of having helped to create “the most conservative platform in GOP history.” Kansans know just what his vision of conservatism means: silenced voters. Every Kobach win is another loss for democracy. His enablers let it happen.