May 11, 2017
President Donald Trump on Thursday is expected to sign an executive order creating a new commission on election integrity and will reportedly appoint "notorious vote suppressor" Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to help lead the panel, prompting what amounted to a collective gasp of horror from voting rights advocates.
Kobach, a Republican, is expected to be named vice chair of the commission and will serve under chair Vice President Mike Pence, according toABC News, which quoted multiple senior officials.
The bipartisan commission "will be tasked with studying 'vulnerabilities' in U.S. voting systems and potential effects on 'improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting,' according to one official with knowledge of the announcement," ABC News reported.
Its creation follows a series of unsubstantiated claims by the president that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, blasted the announcement as "a distraction from actual threats to our democracy, such as ongoing voter suppression and Russia's interference in the 2016 election."
"When Attorney General Jeff Sessions led a similar effort as a former prosecutor in Alabama, it had a chilling effect on the black vote," Clarke said. "Now, President Trump is seeking the counsel of Kansas Secretary of State Kobach, who has a proven record of advocating for discriminatory and burdensome policies that prevent members of minority communities from exercising their right to vote."
"Kris Kobach is a notorious bigot on a mission to vilify immigrants and suppress the voting rights of people of color."
--Javier Valdez, Make the Road New York
Notably, Kobach had advised Trump during his transition on matters including changes to federal voting law, as well as new Homeland Security "provisions to ask immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries about Sharia Law and to block Syrian refugees from entering the country," according to the Kansas City Star.
The ACLU of Kansas won a court order last month demanding the release of documents related to the so-called "Kobach Strategic Plan." After a failed appeal by the Kansas secretary of state, a district judge on Wednesday ordered Kobach to release the documents to the civil rights group by the end of the week.
Kobach has been called the "Javert of voter fraud," in reference to a character from Les Miserables, and has led a national campaign to clamp-down on "potential double voters" via the controversial Interstate Crosscheck System, which was used to purge as many as one million minority voters from the rolls ahead of the 2016 election.
A recent report from the Strategic Institute for Intersectional Policy (SIIP) laid out Kobach's rise to power and his lasting impact on national voting rights:
A former fellow at the White House under Attorney General John Ashcroft and a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School, Kobach had been making a name for himself in the early 2000s by promoting the use of trespassing laws against immigrants, encouraging local police to act as immigration enforcement officers, and attempting to prevent immigrants from receiving in-state tuition. He had also spent a great deal of effort promoting voter caging, a strategic predecessor and often accompaniment to voter purging. He also gained notoriety by calling for military intervention at the border with Mexico at the 2004 Republican National Convention, during a failed run for a GOP seat in Congress.
For his efforts, Kobach was given the resources, connections, and authority to launch the Interstate Crosscheck System the following year. Elections in the United States would never be the same again.
And Talking Points Memoreports:
Kobach is the engineer of a number of laws and proposals that were struck down by the courts, including a proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration in Kansas that has been tied up in a multi-year legal battle. Multiple courts have ruled against his efforts to implement the requirement, and at one point, he was threatened to be held in contempt-of-court for allegedly refusing to comply with a court order against it.
Arizona's "show me your papers" law was crafted with Kobach's assistance. While at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, he also was behind the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which essentially functioned as a registry for Muslim men entering the country. Kobach floated the idea after Trump was elected that the program may be revived.
And according to SIIP, Kobach is "one of the... most active and prized lawyers" working to advance the agenda of the Immigration Law Reform Institute (ILRI) which is the legal arm of the ultra-right wing Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), making his elevation to the national commission a troubling prospect for those fighting to protect voting rights.
Javier Valdez, co-executive director of the immigrants rights group Make the Road New York, issued a strong statement in response to the news. "Kris Kobach is a notorious bigot on a mission to vilify immigrants and suppress the voting rights of people of color," Valdez said. "This 'commission' is nothing more than a sham set up by President Trump to justify disenfranchising millions of Americans."
"Asking Cookie Monster to be your pastry chef is like asking Kris Kobach to head your voter fraud commission," quipped Corey Stoughton, former senior counsel with the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.
Kansas City Star columnist Barb Shelly made a similar comparison: "Appointing Kobach to voter fraud commission is like naming a firebug to an arson investigation panel," she wrote on Twitter.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, declared the executive order "a farce, plain and simple." Further, Henderson said that his group is "deeply troubled" by the inclusion of Kobach because "his discriminatory and regressive views on voting rights are well known and render him too biased to neutrally assess voting issues."
"Given Kobach's past, will likely just be a voter suppression drive," Brian Klaas, author and fellow at the London School of Economics' Department of Government, added.
\u201c@KaivanShroff Kobach's history shows everyone exactly what this is about. Ways to suppress votes for demographics that vote Democrat. Nothing more\u201d— Tenn Girl \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6 (@Tenn Girl \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6) 1494514374
\u201cThis is how they rig 2018\nPence, Kobach To Lead Trump\u2019s Bogus \u2018Election Integrity\u2019 Commission \u2013 Talking Points Memo https://t.co/W8Ypq9x92u\u201d— \ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8Matt Kennedy\ud83c\udf3b (@\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\udde6\ud83c\uddfa\ud83c\uddf8Matt Kennedy\ud83c\udf3b) 1494514524
\u201cKobach's most brazen suppressive tactic has been to not process thousands of voter registrations. From last summer: https://t.co/CbF23zTZOt\u201d— Taniel (@Taniel) 1494511229
\u201cIn July, federal court ruled these people had to get to vote in federal elections. Kobach still said he'd block them from non-fed voting...\u201d— Taniel (@Taniel) 1494511229
\u201cAnd the kicker: KS threw out thousands of provisional ballots in 11/2016 after online registration forms were "lost" https://t.co/BpdPEGtiA4\u201d— Taniel (@Taniel) 1494511229
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