President Donald Trump never proved his unfounded allegations that millions of undocumented immigrants illegally cost him the popular vote. But on Thursday (May 11), he issued an executive order that established the Presidential Advisory Committee on Electoral Integrity.
Officially tasked with investigating "those vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for federal elections" that may lead to voter fraud, the Trump-appointed commission’s leadership includes Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach as vice chair. Despite Kobach’s assertion to Topeka, Kansas, outlet WIBW 13 that the commission will act only on facts, the politician’s previous actions and rhetoric—particularly regarding undocumented immigrants—point to the following five reasons why he should not be in charge of any executive effort on voting:
1) He repeatedly echoed, without evidence, Trump’s claim that voter fraud helped Hillary Clinton win the popular vote.
In November 2016, Kobach told The Kansas City Star that he believes "the president-elect is absolutely correct when he says the number of illegal votes cast exceeds the popular vote margin between him and Hillary Clinton at this point." He restated that point to Fox Business in February, citing an unidentified expert "who has analyzed [Kansas’] voter rolls and thinks as many as eighteen thousand non-citizens could be on the rolls." The Star reported earlier this month that Kobach’s office successfully prosecuted only nine people (out of 1.8 million registered voters) for electoral fraud during the November contest. Although he told CNN that the bi-partisan commission "is not set up to disprove or to prove President Trump’s claim," his unsupported public statements on the already politicized issue suggest that he wants to prove Trump right.
2) He has created policies that target undocumented immigrants and Muslims as threats.
Trump and his allies claim that undocumented immigrants and other disenfranchised peoples are committing voter fraud and threatening American democracy. Kobach places these claims within a broader set of policies aimed at undocumented immigrants and people of color. As Mother Jones noted in 2012, Kobach architected Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56, two of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant pieces of state legislation. Both of them allow law enforcement officers to question anyone they suspect is undocumented.
Before those laws, Kobach helped construct the post-9/11 National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) while working in the George W. Bush’s Department of Justice. The Huffington Post reported in November that NSEERS required all men and boys ages 16 and up from 25 "suspect" countries—most of which were Muslim-majority—to register with Immigration and Naturalization Services whenever they enter the country. The program resulted in zero terrorism convictions, but forced more than 13,000 deportations for non-terrorist charges.
More recently, Kobach told The Topeka Capital-Journal last year that he advised then-candidate Trump on what would become his planned wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as a plan to force Mexico to fund construction by cutting off $20 billion in remittances from Mexican immigrants to their families. He also told Reuters in November that he was working on the new president’s proposed Muslim registry, which included guidelines similar to NSEERS.
3) He is a strong proponent of voter ID laws.
The Brennan Center for Justice says Kobach championed one of the country’s strictest voter ID laws in Kansas, requiring people to provide proof of U.S. citizenship before registering to vote. The center adds that Kobach previously defended local ordinances requiring ID for housing and other services in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas and Nebraska. Voter ID laws largely disenfranchise poor people of color who are less likely than their White counterparts to have access to the required identification documents.
4) His local actions disproportionately hurt poor voters of color.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Kobach last year for instituting a voter registration system that it said "unlawfully denies the right to vote in state and local elections to at least 17,000 qualified electors" who used federal registration forms that require fewer pieces of identification than state forms. The District Court of Shawnee County’s ruling in Brown v. Kobach halted the two-tier system mere days before the presidential election. Kobach came under fire in April of 2016 after evidence emerged showing disparities between his office’s English- and Spanish-language voter registration guides, the latter of which omitted how voters could use a passport as an acceptable photo ID. Although his office blamed the discrepancy on a clerical error, critics linked that incident to his reputation for aggressive voter ID and anti-immigration policies.
5) White supremacists don’t seem to bother him.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) noted in 2015 that Kobach spoke at an event for The Social Contract Press, a publishing house categorized by the SPLC as an extremist entity that publishes anti-immigrant and White nationalist works. The SPLC previously reported on Kobach providing legal counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, whose parent Federation for American Immigration Reform is also categorized as a hate group. Kobach told The Kansas City Star that he found the SPLC’s 2015 report "outrageous." "According to the SPLC, if you’re against illegal immigration, you’re a racist," he said. Kobach never commented on White supremacists’ threats to intimidate Black voters, and MSNBC reported in May 2016 that Kobach has received praise on White nationalist websites.