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Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate, is facing no fewer than three separate lawsuits in the coming weeks, even though his previous court appearances have been disastrous. (He has been fined tens of thousands of dollars, been found in contempt of court, and ordered to remedial legal education.) Kobach has built a national reputation crafting anti-immigrant and voter suppression legislation, and his coming court battles will highlight his shady tactics in both fields.
On August 31, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered Douglas County to summon a grand jury to investigate whether Kobach intentionally failed to register voters in 2016.
The Court rejected Kobach’s appeal of a lower court’s order to summon the grand jury. The grand jury process was triggered through a petition drive; Kansas is one of only six states that allows grand juries to be summoned through a petition process. The petition was first filed in 2016 by resident Steven Davis, who accused Kobach of deliberately not processing online voter registrations and preventing eligible voters from casting ballots in 2016.
The grand jury will be selected in the next 30 days, thereafter the investigation of Kobach’s conduct as Secretary of State will begin.
Greg Palast, an investigative journalist, and Rev. Jesse Jackson filed suit against Kobach last week in an attempt to obtain records of voters who were purged from the rolls because of the Crosscheck program.
Palast investigated Kobach’s voter suppression efforts for Rolling Stone and created a film around the investigation. Kansas voting rights attorney Robert Eye is Palast’s co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, which seeks to reveal the names of all Kansas voters Kobach has purged from the state’s voter roles (as well as information about Crosscheck, which Palast called “horrifically inaccurate and racially biased in the extreme.”)
Crosscheck is shorthand for the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program, a database software system that compares voter records from other states and identifies voters who may be registered in multiple places. Crosscheck was developed in 2005 by one of Kobach’s predecessors, but Kobach greatly expanded the program to 26 states.
Crosscheck, which is run solely by Kobach’s office, flags voters at a 99% false-positive rate. This highly inaccurate data is sent back to the individual states as voters who potentially should be purged from the voter rolls. A Harvard study found “Crosscheck’s proposed purging strategies would eliminate about 300 registrations used to cast a seemingly legitimate vote for every one registration used to cast a double vote.” As recently as June, a federal judge struck down an Indiana law allowing voter purges based on Crosscheck.
In March 2018, after urging from Kobach, Donald Trump added a citizenship question to the 2020 census, despite strong protests from advocates that such a question will drive down participation rates and lead to undercounting among communities of color. Such a question has not been a part of the census since 1950, and lawsuits against adding the question have already begun
Though Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross originally claimed that the inclusion of the citizenship question would improve the census, documents later showed that Kobach specifically wanted to include the question so as to dampen response rates among certain communities, leading to district gains for Republicans.
Ross also overruled senior Census Bureau staff members who concluded the citizenship question would be costly and harm the quality of the count. Further, he wanted to make the change without the typical ten years of testing that goes into proposed changes.
In the lawsuit, Underwood claims that Ross was motivated to add the question by “discriminatory animus”. Underwood is seeking to question Kobach because “his influence relates to whether the rationale offered by secretary Ross was a pretext”, adding that “Mr. Kobach wanted secretary Ross to add the question not for Voting Rights Act enforcement purposes but to dilute the political power of immigrant communities of color”.