Kansas Secretary Of State Says His Voter Suppression Crusade Is Meant To ‘Protect Immigrants’

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) is headed to Capitol Hill this afternoon to tell lawmakers he fears the President’s action protecting millions of young immigrants and their parents from deportation will lead to a spike in voter fraud.

“It’s a very real problem of aliens registering to vote, sometimes unwittingly,” Kobach told ThinkProgress earlier this week. “They go to get a drivers’ license, and the person at the DMV says, ‘Hey, would you like to register to be an organ donor and register to vote?’ So some are given the misimpression by the clerk that they are entitled to register to vote. We have plenty of cases like this. And if you increase the population of people who are not US citizens getting drivers licenses, it necessarily follows that these errors that keep happening would increase as well.”

Citing what he calls President’s Obama’s “recent controversial en-mass deferred action,” Kobach is pushing a policy he has advocated since long before the President’s executive order: requiring proof of citizenship for everyone registering to vote, even though Kansas’ and Arizona’s attempts to do this have been ruled illegal. Continuing his argument that undocumented people are “unwittingly” committing felony-level voter fraud, Kobach told ThinkProgress that his policy is really about keeping immigrants safe.

“If you want to protect immigrants who are following the law, you want to put a screen on the front end that makes sure only US citizens are being registered to vote,” he said. Ohio Secretary of State John Husted (R), who is backing Kobach at Thursday’s hearing, has gone further, writing a letter to the President warning of intentional fraud: “The recent executive actions dramatically expand the opportunities for illegal voter registrations in Ohio and other states by non-citizen voters who have valid forms of identification and who willingly or negligently affirm their eligibility to vote.” But recent reports of non-citizen voting have been soundly debunked, while past investigations in Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Ohio turned up only a tiny handful of cases — less than one-thousandth of a percent.

Still, Kobach is waging a multi-year battle with the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to allow states to add extra requirements — like proof of citizenship — to the standard federal form for voter registration. Civil rights groups like the Election Protection Network say doing so would “impact all voters, but fall more significantly on traditionally disenfranchised groups like poor, minority and elderly voters,” who are eligible voters but lack the proper documents. In Kobach’s own state, the policy prevented thousands of eligible citizens from casting a ballot in this past election.

“The EAC’s position is, ‘We control the federal form, not you, the state. And we’ll put on it whatever we want,’” Kobach told ThinkProgress. “So we are raising a constitutional issue, saying the states control the qualifications for voting, and a federal agency can’t tell the state no.”

Kobach ran into trouble earlier this week when he publicly slammed Kansas’ US attorney for failing to investigate cases of voter fraud he referred to them. The AP found that not only did Kobach not send any cases to that office, the cases he sent to other offices for investigation were not voter fraud at all.

Speaking to ThinkProgress at a conference in DC Wednesday, Kobach dismissed the episode as a “semantic quibble,” but acknowledged the prosecutor’s assertion that he didn’t refer new cases was “technically correct.”

“The prosecutor is parsing words very finely,” he said. “I re-referred pending cases to him. We were displeased because the cases were taking so long, one had been sitting for almost four years.”

Kobach says he’s asking the state legislature to give his Secretary of State’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office for the power to bypass the US attorneys and local prosecutors’ offices and initiate prosecutions of voting crimes themselves.

“Our county attorneys are pretty burdened,” he said. “They have arson cases, rape cases, murder cases. So when they get a voter fraud case on their desk, it understandably falls to the bottom of the pile.”