Terry Schwadron

Jul 20, 2017

4 min read

A Vote for More Democracy

Terry H. Schwadron

July 20, 2017

Amidst the news coverage devoted to wayward emails and their consequences was one this week from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is the vice-chair of that Trump commission on voter fraud that met for the first time yesterday.

The email, sent to a Trump team member in the presidential transition months, was made public this last week as part of an ACLU lawsuit regarding proposals for citizenship requirements to vote.

The email said that Kobash was putting together information on legislation for Congress to consider. “I have some already started regarding amendments to the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act] to make clear that proof of citizenship requirements are permitted.”

Now, Kobash is the one who is asking all states to send him and the White House all state voter rolls plus plenty of private information, including last four digits of Social Security numbers, dates of past voting and the like. Kobash and the rest of the fraud group, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, are tasked with determining if there are instances of voter fraud and any recommendations about what to do about it. Upwards of 44 states have found some objection to providing all the information. Kobash, as Kansas secretary of state, oversees voting in Kansas, and is seen as a vocal advocate for limiting voting rather than trying to expand the number of voters.

Apart from privacy concerns, this is just bad social science, with a proposed cross-state check of individual first and last names against lists of undocumented immigrants in an attempt to show that there are people signed up who are not citizens. It is a derided technique that results in lots of false positives, I happen to know, having led a computer-assisted reporting team that has developed much more sophisticated ways to do such searches.

Everyone who has looked at these questions except Kobash and Team Trump has found that actual voting fraud is extremely rare. By contrast with other nations, Americans seem to have a problem in getting its voters to express themselves at the ballot box. More states with Republican-dominated state legislatures have moved to make it more difficult to register to vote, requiring identification, setting time limits and the like. For their part, courts who review these requirements generally have struck them down.

Indeed, the only arrest this year for voter fraud was of a woman, a citizen, by the way, who tried to vote twice for Donald Trump at two different Midwest polling stations. She said she feared her vote would be fraudulently turned into a vote for Hillary Clinton.

These voter suppression efforts have everything to do with keeping Republicans in office and to dissuade Democratic attempts to sign up new residents, young people, voters of color and other groups that may not see the world as thriving under Republicanism. This is a commission with a pre-drawn conclusion going out in search of supporting data.

So, the day after Donald Trump was elected president, Kobach showed up with proposals to change federal law to allow stricter requirements for voter registration.

Current law in this area is the National Voter Registration Act, adopted in 1993, which basically is intended to increase voter participation. It requires, among other thing, that states allow voter registration at departments of motor vehicles and by mail.

In Kansas, Kobach passed a bill called the SAFE Act which requires first-time voters to provide proof of citizenship.

A spokesman for the NYU Brennan Center says that such amendments are intended to suppress voters. “Every time legal obstacles to restricting the vote have been lifted in recent years, we’ve seen substantial spikes in efforts to restrict the vote,” Wendy Weiser, who heads the democracy program, was quoted as saying. By contrast, Kobach told the Daily Signal last year that every time an illegal immigrant votes, “it effectively cancels out a vote of a U.S. citizen,” and said there is “huge potential” for those votes to alter the outcome of an election.”Even if it’s just a handful of votes, it’s still a huge injustice,” he said.

Meanwhile, Republicans are moving this week to close down the U.S. Election Assistance Commission — an agency that helps ensure election security — as part of proposed budget cuts. Though voting is a state function, this commission was to assure training for secure voting processes, a topic that arose again as part of Russian meddling.

In Kansas, thousands of voter registrations were refused or put on hold when people could not show documents to prove citizenship.

Last September a federal appeals court blocked the proof of citizenship requirement in Kansas and two other states. The ACLU is currently suing the state of Kansas over the citizenship requirements. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar proof of citizenship requirement by 7–2, ruling that under the Constitution, the federal National Voter Registration Act must take precedence over any state citizenship requirement. Amending the NVRA to explicitly allow state-level citizenship requirements would eliminate that conflict between state and federal law.

The Washington Post noted that Kobach is currently running for governnor in Kansas, and has been accused of violating federal law by using his position on Trump’s voter fraud commission to promote his campaign.

It is useful to think for a moment about voting in Iraq, all those purple thumbs, under conditions of war, or in a dozen other countries where voting against incumbents might bring retribution, or thinking of Selma and those who walked across that bridge to Montgomery to gain the civil right of voting.

What do these Republicans fear?

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