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To be Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is to court controversy and demagogue it to his advantage. In that and other respects, he’s a bit like his one-time boss Donald Trump. Still, a slate of news involving Kobach recently has us wondering just how much trouble he can get into at the same time.
Rough day for that GOP rising star Kris Kobach:
Federal judge blocks Indiana law from using his Crosscheck system
Revealed his office paid $1,000 fine in federal case with state-issued credit card
Kobach can be investigated by citizen grand jury, Kansas Court of Appeals rules
— Joe Sudbay (@JoeSudbay) June 9, 2018
When we last wrote about Kobach, he had just wrapped up a trial brought by the ACLU over the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act, which requires voters to show proof of citizenship before voting. Kobach had only documented 127 cases of improper voter registration in the last 18 years, but used the issue to demagogue for a law that blocked 30,000 people from voting. Kobach was later found to be in contempt of court for refusing to properly notify thousands of Kansans when they became legally registered to vote.
As part of the trial, Kobach was fined $1,000 in 2017 for lying about what documents were relevant to the case. But as a Kansas Open Records Act request discovered, Kobach paid the fee using a state-issued credit card belong to Craig McCullah, the deputy assistant secretary of state — who says he was not informed of the decision.
“I was out of the country,” McCullah said. “I was never told about this.”
Kobach’s mistakes costing taxpayers money is nothing new; it’s estimated that he’s run up $6.6 million in legal fees in the cities and towns that have come under legal fire for passing his unconstitutional policies. But Kobach’s troubles aren’t over: the Kansas Court of Appeals ruled, also last week, that a citizen grand jury can proceed with an investigation against Kobach for possibly intentionally failing to register voters. As the Kansas City Star wrote:
[Kansas House candidate Steven] Davis’ petition will enable a grand jury to investigate whether Kobach or his subordinates had destroyed, obstructed or failed to process online voter registration applications and whether Kobach’s office had prevented qualified voters from casting their ballots….
“The question of whether or not there’s enough evidence for an indictment, that’s for the grand jury,” said Davis, who is running in the Democratic primary for Lawrence’s 45th House District.
Kobach is running for governor of Kansas this fall, and being the subject of an ongoing investigation will presumably be unhelpful for his campaign.
There’s more: Kobach has recently come under fire, so to speak, for displaying a replica machine gun in local heritage parade where families and children were present. While Kobach has, no surprise, stood his ground, others have called him “clueless” and “socially tone deaf.” Even gun supporters have blasted him, pointing out that machine guns like Kobach’s replica are not protected by the Second Amendment. The city hosting the parade had to apologize for the “concern and frustration” caused by Kobach’s actions.
Separately, a number of Kobach emails to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross were unearthed last week. We’ve known that Kobach was behind the push to include a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which should be opposed because of how it will dampen participation by Americans in minority communities. But the recent emails show that Kobach specifically wanted the question asked so that the exclusion of Americans of color would lead to more conservatively-drawn districts. It’s a contradiction of the rationale that Wilbur Ross originally gave for including the citizenship question — but it’s right up Kobach’s sleaze-scheme alley.
Finally, a federal judge in Indiana ruled against Kobach’s Crosscheck system, blocking Indiana from purging voters from state rolls if they are flagged by Crosscheck. The system has been criticized for its large number of false positives, particularly among voters of color, leading to disenfranchisement for those who have a right to vote. As the judge wrote, the state’s reliance on Crosscheck in this way violates the National Voter Registration Act:
While the defendants have a strong public interest in protecting the integrity of voter registration rolls and the electoral process, they have other procedures in place that can protect that public interest that do not violate the NVRA.
Kansas’ primary is coming up in just a few weeks. What laws will Kobach find ways to violate next?