From the November-December 2017 issue of News & Letters
The co-chair of Trump’s “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” is in a legal fight with the Kansas City Star, which filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act to see his emails relating to the commission. Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State for the state of Kansas and a gubernatorial candidate in that state, has been using a personal gmail account to perform duties for the presidential commission. He has refused to hand over the emails, alleging that he is serving on the commission as a private citizen. “Any communications that may exist are not communications in [my] official capacity as Secretary and thus not public records.”
KOBACH, A FAN OF OBSTRUCTING VOTERS
Kobach is a strong proponent of state laws that require people to show a state-issued picture ID in order to vote, requiring some voters to make a special trip to the DMV and pay fees before exercising their “right” to cast a ballot in an election. This sets up barriers for people in precarious living situations (disproportionately voters of color, young, and poor voters) who work excessive hours or who may misplace IDs or have them confiscated by law enforcement. Three states including Kansas have even passed laws requiring proof of citizenship (i.e., a birth certificate or passport) in order to process new voter registrations, a set of laws that remains under court review.
Judging from Kobach’s public announcements, he has not delved much into instances of vote suppression. Instead he moonlights as a paid columnist for Breitbart News and uses his column to advance a fool’s errand—close Trump’s 2.9 million-vote deficit in the 2016 election by repeating the assertion that at least this many people voted twice or cast ballots when they were ineligible to do so.
Though the penalties for voting twice or for faking eligibility are heavy and the benefit negligible, Kobach has highlighted the large number of voters double-registered in more than one state as evidence of a major problem. Double registration is a routine occurrence which is not illegal—only voting twice is. Generally, it is not a voter’s responsibility to cancel their previous registration.
THE FOX WATCHING THE CHICKENS
Breitbart published a so-called bombshell story from Kobach in September. It focused on 5,000 New Hampshire voters who crossed state lines to vote in the 2016 election, a state Hillary Clinton won by a narrow margin. However, these were voters who used an out-of-state ID to obtain a ballot, something that is allowed even in Kansas. Firmly established federal legal precedent says that citizens who live temporarily outside of a state (for example, to attend college or work seasonal jobs) are allowed to vote in the state where they have an “intent to return.”
The request from the Star is still waiting. It is not entirely clear what Kobach is trying to hide by shielding his communications from public scrutiny. However, the foot-dragging seems to suggest that the emails include incriminating messages which indicate that reductions in voter turnout were not just unfortunate consequences of hastily enacted voter-ID laws but the intended effect.
Short of filing a lawsuit, the Star would have had to follow a process laid out in the Kansas Open Records Act to appeal the wrongful denial of their access to records: the first step is to file a complaint with the office of the Kansas Secretary of State: Kris Kobach.