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Published June 22, 2018; updated August 15, 2018
Kris Kobach is Kansas’ current Secretary of State and Republican candidate for Kansas Governor, and an anti-immigrant extremist who has served as the xenophobic right’s lawyer for more than a decade. He is known for his connections to some of the worst-of-the-worst anti-immigrant zealots, his role pushing anti-immigrant legislation across the land, and his crusades in favor of voter ID restrictions. Despite numerous failures such as pushing bills that end up costing millions in legal fees, and demagoguery about voter fraud despite a complete lack of proof, Kobach continues to “fail up” and remains one of the major figures in the GOP on immigration and voter suppression.
As the New York Times editorial board wrote recently, “Kris Kobach is the GOP at its worst.” We’re inclined to agree.
Here’s Kobach in summary:
In August 2018, Kobach became the Republican nominee for Kansas governor, beating out the state’s current governor Jeff Colyer by a razor-thin margin of just a few hundred votes. Colyer’s concession came a week after the state primary and despite a number of reported irregularities and improprieties in the voting process.
Kobach, as Secretary of State, also served as Chief Elections Officer, a clear conflict of interest that he had to be pressured to recuse himself from. The duty of overseeing election results, however, was then turned over to his close assistant, Eric Rucker, despite the obvious tie to Kobach and the fact that Rucker once donated $1,000 to Kobach’s campaign. Reporting problems and multiple voting discrepancies arose in the week after the primary, including reports that some Colyer voters were forced to vote on provisional ballots or were turned away for unknown reasons. A Colyer spokesman said that Kobach’s office had told county clerks to disregard ballots with smudged postmarks. And Kobach blamed the close margin on noncitizen voters, despite (as always) a complete lack of evidence and Kobach’s own problematic role in affecting the election count. Read more about Kobach’s disputed primary here and here.
Kobach perhaps first made national headlines for his role as the architect of anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56. Starting in the mid-2000s, Kobach essentially acted as a traveling salesman to cities and states that wanted to pass anti-immigrant bills — except that he wrote legislation so poorly that the localities he worked with were inevitably sued and invariably lost money.
With the support of the John Tanton’s network (more about that below), Kobach wrote bills that prohibited landlords from renting to immigrants, forced police to help deport them, demanded utilities stop serving them, implemented random and racist ID checks, and more. When his laws were found unconstitutional, the localities he worked with were left with huge legal bills (though he walked away handsome profits in legal fees).
Kobach initially started with a number of small towns:
During the Obama Administration, Kobach “graduated” to statewide legislation:
Kobach has also been a leading champion of the myth that voter fraud is rampant and requires a crackdown. In 2011, he implemented a strict voter ID law in Kansas. After Donald Trump was elected, Kobach again made national headlines when Trump appointed him the head of his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which disbanded just eight months later due to lack of evidence. The overwhelming consensus from election experts and studies is that voter fraud is extremely rare to the point of insignificance. Kobach, however, continues to demagogue on this mythical problem, even blaming noncitizen voters for his razor-thin primary election victory in Kansas, despite the complete lack of evidence.
Kobach’s Kansas law required documentary proof of citizenship (DPOC) in order to register to vote. The requirement makes it nearly impossible to conduct voter registration drives and can prevent would-be eligible voters from registering. Just this month, DPOC was found unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Fish v. Kobach, after Kobach was only able to demonstrate 11 cases of voter fraud in Kansas from the last 18 years. Robinson wrote that DPOC did not help to block voter fraud, but “acted as a deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”
The trial led to a lot of legal missteps and trouble for Kobach. Before the trial even began, Kobach was $1,000 fined for a “pattern” of “misleading the Court” after he initially refused to hand over documents pertinent to the case. It later came out that Kobach paid this fine using taxpayer money and a state-paid credit card. During the trial, Robinson held Kobach in contempt of court after he failed to fully comply with the preliminary injunction that required Kobach to fully register voters who lacked DPOC. She ordered Kobach to pay a $26,000 fine, which critics have said should come out of Kobach’s pocket rather than the Kansas treasury. In her final ruling, Robinson ordered Kobach to remedial legal school after his performance showed a lack of understanding of civil procedure.
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, and Kobach’s office still runs the program for participating states.
Crosscheck flags voters at a 99% false-positive rate. This highly inaccurate data is sent back to the individual states as voters who should be potentially 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.” This month, a federal judge struck down an Indiana law allowing voter purges based on Crosscheck.
After Kobach supported Trump’s lie that 3 to 5 million fraudulent votes were cast in the 2016 election, Trump named Kobach Vice Chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The now-defunct Commission had a wide range of critics, from former Attorney General Eric Holder, who called Kobach a “fact-challenged zealot”, to the New York Times editorial board, which called the Commission “a sham and a scam.” Mississippi’s Republican Secretary of State at once point told the Commission to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico”, and the NAACP said the Commission’s actions were “a looming threat to our democracy.”
Concern surrounding the Commission grew after Kobach sent a letter to every state requesting voter data including names, addresses, birthdates, partial social security numbers, party affiliations, voting patterns, felony convictions, and military service. The fears of the voter data collection by Kobach led to thousands to de-register to vote across the country. Ultimately, the Commission was disbanded after a series of lawsuits sought to make it comply with transparency requirements, and after it failed to produce any evidence of voter fraud..
Due to Kobach’s urging, Donald Trump is adding 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. 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.
During his failed bid for Congress in 2004, Kobach accepted support from John Tanton’s network of anti-immigrant organizations, in which Kobach would increasingly entangle himself.
The John Tanton network is a group of organizations founded by the extreme white nationalist John Tanton, who believed in eugenics and racial superiority. The three main anti-immigrant organizations he founded are NumbersUSA, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed both of the latter as hate groups.
Some of Kobach’s affiliations with these groups are as follows:
In addition to the Tanton network, Kobach has relationships with many other noted anti-immigrant extremists, including:
Kobach has been making a lot of news in recent years, but he has been advocating for harsh restrictions on immigration and using the issue to develop a national reputation for himself for decades.
In 2012, he was Mitt Romney’s immigration advisor, and the source of the “self deportation” plan that many say led to Romney’s defeat. Kobach also shaped the GOP platform in 2012, adding calls for a border fence, the end of in-state tuition for undocumented students, the implementation of E-Verify nationally, and a bizarre, conspiracy-minded ban on “foreign law”.
Kobach also helped craft immigration directives inside the Department of Justice (DOJ) under the George W. Bush Administration and played a major role in Bush’s anti-Muslim policies. Kobach was the architect of NSEERS, initiated in 2002, that required all male noncitizens over the age of sixteen traveling to or present in the United States from twenty-four Muslim-majority countries (plus North Korea) to undergo special register. NSEERS brought zero terrorism-related charges but put 13,799 people in deportation proceedings. The Obama Administration fully removed the program, but when Trump was sworn in, Kobach had the reinstatement of the program at the literal top of his wishlist.