America’s Voice has long known Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as an anti-immigrant extremist bent on terrorizing immigrant families. But this week, Kobach was in court over a federal voting rights case brought on by the ACLU, and he hasn’t been doing well.
Kobach, in an unusual move, is representing himself in the case, which is a bad idea since it seems that he is a terrible lawyer. Judge Julie Robinson, the Chief Judge for the U.S. District Court of Kansas, has had to rebuke Kobach multiple times for improperly trying to introduce evidence that was not timely shared with the prosecution. “That’s not how trials are conducted,” she told Kobach this week. “We’re not going to have a trial by ambush.” On Tuesday, she had to explain the process for introducing evidence, saying it was “Evidence 101.”
Last year, Kobach was fined $1,000 for demonstrating “deceptive conduct and lack of candor” after he was exposed lying about what documents were relevant to the case. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern compiled a whole list of the times Kobach has lied to the court and borderline refused to follow judge’s orders about allowing Kansas citizens to vote. Kobach has flirted with contempt of court — though that’s apparently not a threat if you’re a friend of the Trump Administration.
Kobach last made national news for being part of Donald Trump’s “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity”, the “political Hindenburg” which embarrassingly disbanded earlier this year “after having conspicuously compiled no evidence whatsoever to justify its existence.” And those of us in the immigration reform world watched Kobach for years as he legislatively parachuted into states like Arizona and Alabama and dumped off anti-immigrant bills for right-wing legislators to pass without concern for the constitutionality of those eventually-overturned laws or the damage they did to immigrant communities.
Now, considering the fact that Kobach is not doing himself any favors in court, it seems we should be asking: is Kobach (who, with degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Oxford, looks respectable on paper) good at anything besides demagoguing about how immigrants shouldn’t be voting?
This week’s trial revolves around the Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act, passed in 2011, which requires voters to show proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate or passport) before they’re allowed to vote. The ACLU has charged that the law violates the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which says states may only require the “minimum amount of information necessary” to evaluate whether someone is allowed to vote.
One plaintiff in the case could not vote because she’d never left the country and did not have a passport, and did not have the money to order a birth certificate from the state of Maryland, where she was born. Another plaintiff registered with a birth certificate, but was still given only a provisional ballot on Election Day, which was not counted.
Kobach, by the way, is running for Kansas governor, which makes it additionally suspicious that he’s spent all this time trying to disenfranchise the very voters who have a say in whether he gets to fail up this fall. As Dale Ho, Director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, put it, “It’s kind of unusual for the person who is trying to set the rules of the election to also be running in that election. Some might say there’s something of a conflict of interest there.”
Despite Kobach’s constant grandstanding on the issue, Kobach himself has only been able to document 127 cases of improper voter registration in Kansas dating back to 2000. Only 43 of those people appear to have registered successfully and only 11, it seems, actually voted, mostly out of confusion. So, that’s 11 cases of improper voting over 18 years in a state with 1.8 million registered voters. Meanwhile, it’s been estimated that Kansas’ voter ID law has blocked 30,000 people — one in seven voters — from casting ballots, a number that has long-term effects since those who have been blocked from voting once may not try again.
As Dale Ho put it in his opening statement, “Enforcing this law is like taking a bazooka to a fly. The collateral damage is thousands.”
Echoed one of the plaintiffs, “The average Kansas citizen shouldn’t have to sue the Secretary of State just to get registered to vote.”
The case continues next week. If Kobach can figure out how to introduce evidence by then.