Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is still pressing, his campaign to suppress voter registration now festering in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. At issue is his plan to keep Jim Crow alive and well in Kansas: He insists that Kansans who register at motor vehicle offices have documents that prove they are U.S. Citizens, the kind of papers people don’t usually carry around with them – a birth certificate (not a copy), or a passport, for example. Things that once were good, such as a driver’s license, or a utilities bill, or a social security card, now aren’t, not under Kobach’s law.
You can see the trouble. Not many people carry, or have, a passport. And not everyone old enough to vote has a driver’s license. In effect this leaves out a good number of college students, the poor, minorities, the elderly and the infirm, for starters. Thousands of them – 18,000, 20,000? – are currently in limbo, with registrations on hold or ballots labeled “provisional,” while Kobach drags his crusade through a labyrinthine maze of appeals. The idea is to keep these people away from the coming election.
Lower courts have twice ruled against him. The American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters are supporting five Kansans who sued in Federal Court, claiming the requirement violates the National Voter Registration Act.
Last February, at a meeting of Kansas Republicans in Johnson County, Kobach called the League, and the ACLU “communists,” for daring to challenge his authority.
THE DUBIOUS matter of “voter fraud,” in Kansas at least, is more about control than rigging elections. Voter fraud is so infrequent as to be fiction in this state, where most polling stations are manned by people who’ve been around for awhile, people who know most everyone in their precinct and who can spot a stranger, if not a phony, the moment one walks in the door. And that rarely if ever happens, even in the heavily traveled city wards or the sprawling suburbs. So far, Kobach has nailed fewer than a handful of “criminals,” elderly dualstate residents who committed innocent mistakes, hardly the hard-bore felons he has insisted were teeming through the precincts to overthrow the system.
The problem is that we’ve become a society in which a birth certificate and two photo IDs will be required to purchase a soft drink, or go for a stroll in the back yard. There is no real evidence that elections in Kansas are corrupt, but they are a soft target for control freaks, another way for power mongers like Kobach to push people around under the threadbare banner of “security.”
But Kobach’s mission has nothing to do with security; it’s about domination, supremacy. He is the first chief election officer in this state to establish his own political action committee, to funnel cash only to the candidates he likes – an odd thing for an official charged with maintaining free and fair elections. And it’s peculiar, and menacing, that he would charge two venerable and esteemed institutions, the League of Women Voters and the ACLU, as being “communist,” as though shilling for the ghost of Joe McCarthy, rather than arguing law.
Keep in mind, too, that our Secretary of State has reached beyond the Kansas borders to campaign against the Affordable Care Act and the Lesser Prairie Chicken. He is a solid Trumper, and was a prime contributor to the Republican Party platform, having penned multiple pages of sharp antiimmigration policy, and a plank condemning the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage. He also helped write planks firmly opposing any ban on assault rifles and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
KOBACH’S megalomania aside, the nagging problem with our elections is that nobody comes to them. There was a time, 30 years ago, when Kansas Secretaries of State, with Jack Brier and Bill Graves leading the charge, were at the front of campaigns to increase voter registration, not suppress it.
In many counties, a 20 percent turnout in primary elections was considered a blazing success; for the general election, 60 percent was cause for a holiday. (Last August, the primary turnout was 23 percent.) When you figure that only half the citizens eligible to vote are even registered, the numbers are even more discouraging.
But Kobach has at least answered one question, why he trumps up an issue of voter “fraud” when the real issue is voter absence. The longer voters are absent, the longer Kobach will be present, and in power.