Unsealed Documents Show That Kris Kobach Is Dead Set on Suppressing the Right to Vote

For almost a year, Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas, has struggled to hide the truth about his efforts to lobby the Trump administration to make it much harder for Americans to vote. Part of that struggle ended today when a federal court ordered excerpts of Kris Kobach’s testimony disclosed along with other documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in our challenge to his restrictive voter registration regime.

The unsealed materials confirm what many have suspected: Kobach has a ready-made plan to gut core voting rights protections enshrined in federal law. And he has been covertly lobbying Trump’s team and other officials from day one to sell them the falsehood that noncitizens are swinging elections.

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As the de facto head of President Trump’s election commission, Kobach has positioned himself to lead an all-out assault on the right to vote.

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Here are three big plays from Kobach’s voter suppression playbook.

Play 1: Disenfranchise new voters with severe registration restrictions

Before Kris Kobach took office as secretary of state, Kansans could register to vote the same way that people do in virtually every other state in the country: by submitting a sworn oath of citizenship under penalty of perjury. In 2013, Kobach implemented a law he had pushed through the Kansas Legislature two years earlier, requiring people to track down a citizenship document — such as a passport or birth certificate — or be barred from the ballot box. The new system proved disastrous for ordinary voters.

Large numbers of citizens — disproportionately minorities — don’t have a passport or birth certificate on hand and don’t have the money to obtain replacement documents. By December 2015, more than 35,000 Kansans had been disenfranchised — approximately 14 percent of all registration applications since the requirement went into effect. The National Voter Registration Act — popularly known as the Motor-Voter law — prohibits unduly harsh registration rules and requires that states make voter registration easy and straightforward.

Kobach’s severe documentation requirements violated the NVRA so we sued. In October 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit blocked the requirement for people registering at DMVs. The opinion by a George W. Bush-appointed judge found that Kobach’s law had caused a “mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right.” The court noted that before a state could impose such sweeping restrictions, there would need to be proof that significant numbers of noncitizens were actually registering to vote. But Kobach had no evidence of any real problem. He could only offer “pure speculation” that hordes of invisible immigrants were hiding out in voting booths.

Play 2: If the law doesn’t let you suppress the vote, pull some strings to get rid of the law

Without evidence or legal arguments in his favor, Kobach’s next move was to try to eviscerate the NVRA itself. As Kobach knew, and the ACLU had made clear in court, the NVRA would need to be completely rewritten for a state official like Kobach to have the authority to impose such severe restrictions on the right to vote:

Kobach Document Screenshot

So what did Kobach do after losing in court? As the unsealed documents show, he secretly prepared a draft amendment that would rewrite the NVRA in exactly this manner.

Kobach Document Screenshot 2

No evidence of noncitizen voter fraud? No problem.

Kobach’s proposed amendment would grant him and officials across the country the power to impose any voter registration restriction they wanted regardless of the evidence — or lack thereof. Then, the very day after Donald Trump won the presidential election, Kobach started peddling his amendment, sending an email to Gene Hamilton, a member of the Trump transition team:

Kobach Document Screenshot 3

Less than two weeks later, on November 20, 2016, Kobach was photographed walking into a meeting with Trump, carrying his agenda for the “First 365 days” of the incoming administration. A bullet point in the plan? Amend the NVRA.

Kobach Document Screenshot 4

We now know that the meeting was Kobach’s job interview with Donald Trump and his senior advisors: Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Jared Kushner, and Reince Priebus. Kobach gave each of them a copy of his playbook, pitching them the idea that noncitizens were potentially swinging the results of elections.

Shortly after the meeting with Kobach, Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote if not for millions of people who supposedly voted illegally.

Trump Electoral College Tweet

Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway later confirmed that Kobach was the source of Trump’s tweet.

On May 20, 2017, Trump selected Kobach as the vice-chair and de facto leader of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity. Kobach had the commission packed with many of his own longtime confederates and is now poised to execute the scheme outlined in his unsealed documents.

Play 3: Cover your tracks

When the ACLU demanded that he produce his draft NVRA amendments in the Kansas litigation, Kobach did the natural thing a vote suppressor caught red-handed would do: He lied.

Kobach told the ACLU and a federal magistrate that “no such documents exist” in an attempt to keep his lobbying efforts under wraps:

Kobach Document Screenshot 6

After Kobach was ordered to produce his papers for review, the magistrate fined him for making “patently misleading representations to the court about the documents.” When Kobach appealed that decision, the presiding judge agreed that Kobach should be sanctioned because of a “pattern” of misrepresentation “that call[s] his credibility into question.”

Kobach’s lobbying to gut the NVRA was always meant to occur behind closed doors. So he has been struggling for months to keep these documents out of public view, while secretly asking his ally, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), to introduce his proposed NVRA amendment to Congress in the future.

Why is Kobach trying so hard to hide what he’s been up to? Because the unsealed documents reveal that his true aim and that of the election commission is suppressing the right to vote.
When the 10th Circuit blocked Kobach’s law a year ago, the court found that a state has to prove that noncitizen registration fraud is actually a significant problem before it can demand a passport or birth certificate from voters. Since then, Kobach has been maneuvering behind the scenes to make sure he can impose whatever restrictions he wants without any proof. Why? Because he knows his claims about noncitizens voting are a scam.

Kobach realizes that his law has been disenfranchising tens of thousands of eligible citizens — that is the whole point. And now, he’s poised to do the same nationwide.

Vice President Pence stated that the president’s election commission would begin with “no preconceived notions or preordained results.” That was wrong. As Kobach’s own testimony and documents show, the fix has been in from the start.

Want to expand access to the ballot and make our democracy more representative? Get involved. Participate in a “Let People Vote” voting rights action near you. Read more about the Let People Vote campaign here; sign up for updates here

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Captain Obvious

The problem occurs when the rules keep people who are citizens from voting. Think about it like guns...

Anonymous

It's not difficult to obtain a birth certificate. I've done it, and it didn't cost me $50. There isn't anything wrong with having a presentable valid ID to vote. No one actually knows how the votes are being counted, but no oversight leaves room for abuse. We've seen videos of defrauding votes, and to think otherwise is negligence.

KristenRde

In reply to the question regarding obtaining a birth certificate, in many places there are requirements for ID, requests are usually required to be made in person at an authorized outlet (hospital counts for submitting application for initial birth certificat), only the person the birth certificate is for or the parents are allowed to have an official copy issued. If a person was born in another state that could present a problem, don't you think? Also, the fee in my state is (last time I checked) $25, a person on a strict budget may have problems coming up with even that amount that seems small to many.
The right to vote is one of our Fundamental rights, as citizens of the United States we have the right to vote in any of the 50 states we reside in, and can move around as much as we wish...the only exceptions are in states the strip the rights from felons and US Territories where the people are citizens, but are not allowed to vote in national elections from territories.

Anonymous

There is absolutely no evidence illegal immigrants are voting. Continuing to call it into question despite a total lack of evidence is racist.

Anonymous

How is it suppressing the minority vote to have ID ? I have never understood this. Doesn't everyone have an ID? And if not how do they get their government benefits?

Anonymous

Er ... Why are you assuming they'd be on benefits?

And yes, most people do have some form of ID. But this is about laws requiring specific forms of ID - so that when you go to register with your driver's license you get turned away for not having a birthday certificate on hand. This suppresses the minority vote by way of suppressing the poor vote, because those are the people less likely to be able to produce a passport or birth certificate on demand.

Anonymous

Believe providing false statement to the Court is a crime. Should be charged with a felony and do some jail time

Anonymous

Lol

Derek

hmm... insightful, well-supported, brilliant.

Anonymous

How do these people get in office? Seriously, Kansas wake the Hell up!!

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