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Commentary: Kris Kobach's spectacular voter-fraud failure is on trial

Commentary: Kris Kobach's spectacular voter-fraud failure is on trial


Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach arrives at the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on July 19, 2017.

For a public employee with a full-time job, Kris Kobach has an enviable amount of free time.

Elected Kansas secretary of state in 2010, he traveled the country advising right-wing politicians on the best ways to chase undocumented immigrants from their states. After the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, Kobach kept his day job in Kansas while leading Trump's voter-fraud commission, a political Hindenburg that self-combusted in January after having conspicuously compiled no evidence whatsoever to justify its existence.

Last week Kobach, who is frequently away from his office running for governor, was in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, where he has opted to represent his office in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the League of Women Voters and individuals.

The suit claims that the stringent requirements of the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act, which requires voters to show specifically designated proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, in order to register to vote, violates the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which says states may only require the "minimum amount of information necessary" to assess whether someone is eligible to vote.

A witness in the case Tuesday described bureaucratic hurdles and snafus that plagued his efforts to vote after he moved from Chicago to Wichita in 2014.

Kobach asked the witness, Charles Stricker, why he couldn't just take his birth certificate to the local election office during his lunch hour and thereby comply with the law. That must have seemed a natural sort of question for Kobach, whose job appears to impose few, if any, actual requirements. But Stricker, who works at a hotel, said that he frequently works 12-hour days and eats lunch at his desk.

Of course, making voting difficult for people who don't control their work schedules or don't have ready access to transportation or don't have a birth certificate or passport on hand or are otherwise overburdened is the whole point of the law Kobach is defending. Yet even when certain people produce their long-form birth certificates to prove their citizenship, Kobach turns out to be strangely skeptical about the very form of identification that he insists is necessary to prevent fraud in the first place.

In an April 2016 episode of his radio show (yup, he even found time for that), Kobach listened as a caller - "Jim from Iowa" - complained about Barack Obama having been "born in Africa" and obtaining a college scholarship reserved for foreigners before the president showed us all his "fake birth certificate."

Obama had responded to this particular outbreak of mass psychosis five years earlier by releasing his birth certificate. Yet Kobach didn't seem convinced that a birth certificate -- the standard upon which he now insists -- was actually valid proof of identity. "You know, you're right," Kobach told Jim. "And that issue's water under the bridge these days," he added, seemingly perturbed that the birther calumnies, once so dear, had slithered into the sewer.

Kobach, of course, has spent years making claims for which he produced no evidence. Last year a federal court admonished him for a "pattern" of misleading statements he made in connection with Trump's voter-fraud panel. (The judge in the current trial has repeatedly rebuked Kobach for failing to follow proper procedure.)

When Kobach ran for office in 2010, he condemned the thousands of dead people and illegal aliens who were poisoning his state's ballot box with their fraudulent votes. But in his seven years as secretary of state, with powerful tools to investigate voter fraud, Kobach hasn't done much to stem the invisible tide of zombie voters. He has filed charges against only 15 people since gaining prosecutorial power in 2015. Many of those charged, including Republicans, seemed more confused than menacing.

Kobach told the federal court this week that Kansas's voter-registration law had prevented between 1,000 and 18,000 non-citizens from voting. That factor of 18 in the estimate does seem curiously large, doesn't it? But Kobach quantifies voter fraud with the kind of attention to detail that Joe McCarthy once applied to counting communists in the State Department. Here's some perspective from the Associated Press:

"Kobach said his office has been able to document 129 noncitizens who voted or tried to vote since 2000, although documentation earlier to the court had the number at 127. He said that number is 'the tip of the iceberg and we know the iceberg is much larger.' "

An ACLU attorney responded that of the 127 improper registration cases since 2000, 43 people appeared to have registered successfully and only 11 appeared to have actually voted, most through clerical errors or confusion. So the tally is 11 voters over 18 years in a state with 1.8 million registered voters.

Kobach surely knows that a lack of evidence - 127, 129, whatever -- won't undermine his good standing with the likes of "Jim from Iowa." Because their joint cause runs on resentment and racial paranoia, not facts or evidence.

"The 129 is just the tip of the iceberg," Kobach said. "We know the iceberg is much larger." Yes, much larger. Huge, even. In his eighth year in office, Kobach's getting ready to buckle down, roll up his sleeves and get to work finding that iceberg. Just as soon as he gets back to work.

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.

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