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Ari Berman: Kris Kobach Is Helping Trump Lay Groundwork for Nationwide Voter Suppression Effort

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To date, 44 states have said they will not hand over detailed personal information about U.S. voters to Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. We look at the man behind the request for the data: Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and vice chair of Trump’s “election integrity” commission. Kobach has pushed for the strictest voter identification laws in the country and advocated for a “proof-of-citizenship” requirement that civil rights advocates say is aimed at suppressing voter turnout. We speak with by Ari Berman, whose recent piece for The New York Times Magazine is “The Man Behind Trump’s Voter-Fraud Obsession.” We also speak with Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The organization filed a complaint Monday against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Watch Part 1: 44 States Say No to Trump: Resistance Grows as Trump’s Election Commission Seeks Private Voter Data

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has defended President Trump’s unfounded claim that millions of people illegally voted, supposedly costing Trump the popular vote. He lost by what? About 3 million votes to Hillary Clinton but won the Electoral College. This is Kansas Secretary of State Kobach being questioned by reporters.

SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: I think 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.

REPORTER: What tangible evidence is there that that actually happened?

SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: Well, this is the problem with aliens voting and aliens registering. There’s no way you can look on the voter rolls and say, “This one’s an alien. This one’s a citizen. This one’s an alien.” You—once a person gets on the voter rolls, you don’t have any way of easily identifying them as aliens, and so you have to rely on post-election studies, like the Cooperative Congressional Election survey, where you get data from aliens themselves saying, “Oh, yeah, I voted.” … It does appear that aliens do vote in very large numbers.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in November, right after the election. In February, he again claimed there was widespread voter fraud in the presidential election. Here he is, sparring with CNN anchor Kate Bolduan.

SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: Of the 30 states, we have about 3 million people who are registered in more than one state. And that’s not a crime.

KATE BOLDUAN: Right, including—

SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: That’s just an administrative bookkeeping—

KATE BOLDUAN: Right, including president’s son-in-law, including the president’s treasury secretary.

SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: Exactly, yeah. And many of your viewers are probably registered in more than one state. But what is a crime is if you actually vote in both of those states or in more than two states.

KATE BOLDUAN: Of course it’s a crime.

SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: And every year, thousands—

KATE BOLDUAN: But where is the evidence of this—

SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: Right, and every year—

KATE BOLDUAN: —widespread, rampant millions of people voting? If it had happened, why haven’t we seen it, Secretary?

SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: Well, it—well, actually, if you—maybe—I don’t know if your network has covered it, but in my state, just people voting in Kansas and another state, my office prosecutes it. I just got that prosecutorial authority a year and a half ago. We’ve already filed nine cases.

KATE BOLDUAN: Yeah, from the notes that I saw, you have nine cases.

SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: And we have six guilty—guilty pleas.

KATE BOLDUAN: Right, six guilty pleas, one dismissed—


KATE BOLDUAN: —two pending. That’s as January 25th.


KATE BOLDUAN: Nine cases does not rampant widespread voter fraud make.

AMY GOODMAN: So that was CNN host Kate Bolduan questioning Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas. Ari Berman?

ARI BERMAN: Well, it’s important to note, first off, that Kobach is really the leading architect of voter suppression efforts nationwide. He’s not just the secretary of state of Kansas. He’s been going all around the country trying to put in place suppressive voting laws. So, one of the laws that Kansas has in place, for example, is proof of citizenship for voter registration. You have to have a passport, a birth certificate or naturalization papers to be registered to vote in Kansas, if you register after 2013. Most people don’t carry around those documents with them when they go to register to vote. So, in Kansas, one in seven new registrants have been blocked from voting because of this one law alone. And Kobach says he wants to see proof-of-citizenship laws in every state, which would have an unbelievably suppressive effect on voter registration and disenfranchise millions of people. So Kobach has been going all around the country claiming that voter fraud is widespread, trying to build support for President Trump’s lie that millions of people voted illegally, to then put in place policies, like proof of citizenship for registration, that make it very, very difficult to register to vote.

And it’s interesting. You know, for my New York Times Magazine article, I looked into all of Kobach’s claims about voter fraud. And I found, number one, that noncitizen registration is exceedingly rare nationwide. There’s no reason why a noncitizen would register to vote and risk a felony and deportation. The second thing is that Kobach is the only secretary of state in the country with the power to personally prosecute voter fraud cases. So he can actually bring these cases. And of all the cases in Kansas, he’s only convicted one noncitizen of voting. So if it was so widespread, you would think that in Kansas, where he has prosecutorial power, he would be able to show this, but he has not shown this. And this entire commission is predicated on this gigantic lie that millions of people voted illegally. And Kobach is the one who’s whispering in Trump’s ear, telling him this, and then trying to prove this evidence. That’s why he wanted this data from all 50 states, even though there’s no evidence to show that voter fraud is widespread.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk more about your New York Times Magazine piece, Ari Berman, “The Man Behind Trump’s Voter-Fraud Obsession.” Give us Kris Kobach’s history.

ARI BERMAN: So, Kris Kobach is interesting because before he was a leading proponent of voter suppression, he was a leading proponent of restricting immigration. And most people think of these issues as separate. They think of immigration, and they think of voting. But what Kobach has tried to do is combine these two issues. So, first, he drafted all of these anti-immigration laws, like Arizona’s SB 1070, which was the “papers please” law, where police could stop anyone and check their citizenship based on reasonable suspicion if they were in the country illegally. He went all around the country drafting these laws. Then he became secretary of state of Kansas and started drafting anti-voting laws. And basically what he was saying was that all of these people were in the country illegally and that they were voting illegally, as well. So he combined anti-immigrant sentiment with policies that would restrict voting rights.

And I think the goal here is twofold. First, it’s to try to boost the Republican Party in terms of eliminating the pool of voters who could be citizens and then eliminating the electorate itself, but, number two, to try to preserve America’s shrinking white majority. He is looking at the demographics of the country. He’s seeing how the demographics of the country are changing. He’s seeing how white people are becoming a minority in many states. And they’re pushing both anti-immigrant policies and voter suppression policies to try to protect the Republican Party and try to protect the shrinking white majority in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about his connections to white supremacist, right-wing groups.

ARI BERMAN: Well, this was really alarming. So, since 2003, 2004, Kobach has been counsel to a group called FAIR, Federations for American Immigration Reform, which is called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, really the main group that’s promoted restricting immigration. The founder of that group, John Tanton, who was an ophthalmologist in Michigan, has said unbelievably racist things about Latinos, has said there is going to be an explosion of whites against Latinos in the U.S., has republished a book called Camp of the Saints, a French novel that’s unbelievably racist—Steve Bannon is one of its friends. So, that’s one of Kobach’s influences.

Another influence was Samuel Huntington from Harvard, who was a longtime professor there, known for his work The Clash of Civilizations. But Huntington really had two very radical ideas that influenced Kobach. The first was that there’s such a thing as too much democracy. After things like the Voting Rights Act were passed, Huntington worried about the effect that, quote-unquote, “the blacks” would have on the political system. The second thing Huntington denounced was the Hispanicization of the U.S., the idea that Latino immigrants were threatening Anglo-Protestant-Christian values in the U.S.

And so, Kobach talks about the rule of law. He talks about voter fraud. He talks about these things—

AMY GOODMAN: Huntington was the mentor of Kobach at Harvard.

ARI BERMAN: Was the mentor of Kobach when Kobach was at Harvard. So, Kobach talks about all of these things, like the rule of law and voter fraud, like it’s just these commonsense things. But you scratch right below the surface, and you realize that his intellectual influences are really leading proponents of white nationalism and white supremacy in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: His relationship with Sheriff Joe Arpaio when he was there in Arizona?

ARI BERMAN: He had a very close relationship to Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, who branded himself “America’s toughest sheriff” and was subsequently sued by the Justice Department for racial profiling and held in contempt of court by a federal court. Kobach was really the guy who sold Arpaio on the idea of mass deportation. Kobach had this idea called attrition through enforcement, which really became known as self-deportation. And the idea is, you make life so miserable for immigrants that they will just leave the U.S. So, Kobach is really the guy who ended up getting Arpaio in all this legal trouble by claiming he had this authority that he never had.

AMY GOODMAN: What about those who say the point of this commission is simply to identify and then suppress votes of those you don’t want to be voting? Where does this commission go now, with 44 states refusing to either fully or partly comply with the information request from Kobach’s commission?

ARI BERMAN: Well, I think Trump’s commission is still going to make the argument that voter fraud is widespread, rampant and massive, and we have to put in place all of these policies to try to suppress votes in reaction to that. But the point is, we’re seeing they’re not even going to get the data to be able to do this kind of analysis. So, to me, this entire commission is a sham. The fact that all of these states have refused to hand over the data means that this commission, in my view, should be disbanded. It serves no purpose at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Kristen Clarke, do you see that happening? Where do you see this commission going and your complaint going?

KRISTEN CLARKE: Well, we hope that they will revoke the election integrity commission. We believe that it has a baseless mission, which is to substantiate the president’s false allegations about widespread vote fraud. They have put together a dream team of voter suppressor proponents—not just Kris Kobach, but Hans von Spakovsky. It’s also rumored that Ken Blackwell, former secretary of state of Ohio. I mean, these are folks who have made a career out of erecting barriers to the ballot box around our country. Ken Blackwell, during his tenure as secretary of state, rejected voter registration forms that he thought were not printed on the right paper weight. Hans von Spakovsky is someone who has championed voter ID laws and championed laws that seek to make it harder for people to vote, including taking away the right to vote from people with a criminal history. When you peel back the layers, the goal of this commission is clear. It is intended to lay the groundwork for voter suppression laws across our country.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed this Hatch Act complaint against Kris Kobach, but we think that the commission, as it stands today, is illegitimate. You have states around the country that are saying that they will refuse to participate. We intend to continue to bring pressure on other states to discourage them from turning over data or information of any kind to this illegitimate commission. We know that there are folks in Congress who are introducing legislation, calling for the defunding of the commission and calling for revocation of the commission. I think those are important points. This is a waste of taxpayer dollars, at the end of the day.

And all of this is coming at a time where we’re seeing the Justice Department turning the clock back on federal civil rights enforcement, including enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. We need to return our focus in this country to doing work that brings people into the process, and get to a place where all eligible Americans are able to participate in our democracy. And the commission runs against that important goal.

AMY GOODMAN: Kristen Clarke, I want to thank you for being with us, head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. And thanks so much to Ari Berman of The Nation. We’ll link to your piece in The New York Times, “The Man Behind Trump’s Voter-Fraud Obsession.” Ari Berman is author of the book Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Beirut, Lebanon. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Una Canción de Amor,” a love song by Honduran singer Karla Lara. On Friday, Berta Zúñiga Cáceres, the daughter of the murdered Honduran indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres, herself survived an attempted attack by men wielding machetes. We’ll have more on that story later, on Thursday, on Democracy Now! Yes, this is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.

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