During his tenure as Kansas’s secretary of state, Kobach has almost single-handedly transformed the state’s voter registration and electoral laws. He’s the only secretary of state in America with the power to personally prosecute voter fraud, and his office has used that power to file hundreds of allegations, voter challenges, and court proceedings against immigrants. Its efforts have produced only one conviction of a noncitizen voter for election fraud. His 2011 Secure and Fair Elections Act imposing more stringent voter-identification requirements has the stated intent of cracking down on noncitizen voting, but multiple lawsuits have claimed that it unfairly suppresses minority votes, and violates the Voting Rights Act.
At least five states—including Connecticut, California, Kentucky, Virginia, and Massachusetts—have partially or completely rejected Kobach’s request, citing what appears to be both a clear motive and a clear mechanism for voter suppression. Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill cited Kobach’s “lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas” as a reason for only turning over some of the requested data. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement Thursday that “California's participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach.”
Although a national repository of voter data would be useful in helping fight the widespread voter fraud Kobach and the Trump administration cite, most serious analyses have found scant evidence for such claims. Kobach cites the possibility of “false positives” as a reason for collecting sensitive data like Social Security numbers—suggesting he wishes to use the additional details to avoid misidentifying legally registered voters as ineligible. His record in Kansas has led critics to doubt the sincerity of that claim.
Although some other states might join the five now resisting the commission’s data request, it’s likely that most states will honor his request. Along with Virginia’s denial from Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, the four other state officials to come out against Kobach are Democratic secretaries of state. But most secretaries of state and bodies in charge of elections data are Republican, and many have issued their own restrictive voter rules in the post-Shelby County v. Holder voting rights landscape and are in favor of the commission’s work. It’s also worth noting that much of the data Kobach requested can be and often is distributed to the public on a state-by-state basis.
So Kobach will likely have most of the data he wants. And armed with those records, although the Commission on Election Integrity has little direct influence over policy and none over state elections laws, it could still immediately become one of the most powerful electoral influences in the country. The commission could create lists of voters to target and challenge, coordinate disparate anti-immigrant voter practices across the country, or propagate voter-ID laws in Republican state legislatures. That last prospect seems almost inevitable after President Trump named former Federal Election Commission member Hans von Spakovsky to the Commission on Election Integrity on Thursday. Von Spakovsky is one of the intellectual godfathers of the modern push for voter ID and of the myth of voter fraud, and pioneered many of the voter-suppression tactics in use today.