The notorious anti-immigration vote-suppression specialist Kris Kobach will join the President Donald Trumps’s new commission on election integrity, White House staff announced Thursday.
The Kansas Secretary of State and longtime immigration consigliere to national Republicans will be second to Vice President Mike Pence, the panel’s official chairman.
Trump has promised for months to create a standing body that will investigate his oft-repeated lie that 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election. The exact shape of that body and the identities of its members — save for Pence — have been a mystery until today.
For a president bent on finding some kind of proof for his absurd, innumerate claims about voter fraud, Kobach is both a natural choice and a doomed one.
Kobach and Trump’s fake stats have real policy consequences.
Kobach has made similar claims himself, insisting he had mathematical proof of rampant illegal voting. Trump administration officials have pointed to Kobach’s claims of proof when pressed to explain their boss’s insistence that millions cast illegal ballots last fall.
The problem is that Kobach’s math is bogus. It relies on two studies, one an actual national survey published in a peer-reviewed academic journal and the other a tiny, private analysis focused on voting in Kansas. ThinkProgress obtained and published the latter paper, which Kobach had withheld from public scrutiny, in April.
Both papers are by the same academic, Old Dominion University professor Jesse Richman. His peer-reviewed work from 2014 has been debunked and derided openly by hundreds of colleagues. His smaller, previously concealed analysis of Kansas “doubl[es] down on the same mistakes he made in his now discredited 2014 study,” UMASS-Amherst professor Brian Schaffner told ThinkProgress’ Joshua Eaton in April.
The paper uses a mishmash of different data sources, extrapolating out from tiny and non-representative local samples to make claims about national voter behavior patterns. Kobach is fond of saying that there were close to 20,000 noncitizen voters in Kansas — but the only basis for that claim is that Richman found 6 potential noncitizen voters in a sample of 37 noncitizen residents. Misusing sample sets so aggressively is the sort of innumerate hogwash for which college freshmen get gently pulled aside and advised to maybe try some English courses instead.
Kobach and Trump’s fake stats have real policy consequences. Republican secretaries of state openly cite Trump’s lie about illegal voting to justify their support for laws that make it harder for all Americans to vote
Eaton’s full report, complete with Richman and Kobach’s responses, is here:
Kobach’s commitment to barring eligible voters from registering is so fervent that he was nearly held in contempt of court last year during a lawsuit over his push to keep some 30,000 Kansans off the rolls.
But Kobach’s role as a utility infielder for immigration-obsessed right-wing conservatives goes back much further than his specious voter-fraud claims.
Kobach was the architect of Arizona’s notoriously racist “show me your papers” law, SB 1070, back in 2011. That legislation, since overturned as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, empowered cops in the state to demand proof of citizenship from anyone suspected of being here illegally.
Kobach’s idea of how police might determine such a suspicion? Check anybody who fits a stereotype about Latinos in the United States. In an email to the Arizona lawmaker who introduced the bill, he recommended a language tweak to ensure cops were empowered to demand citizenship proof from people with “cars on blocks in the yard” or “too many occupants of a rental accommodation.”
He also helped craft a local version of the same sort of crackdown, which was picked up by small-town anti-immigrant leaders in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Nebraska, Virginia, and Texas.
Those communities have spent some $6.6 million on legal fees trying to defend Kobach’s ideas in court.
Kobach, like Trump, also entertained the “birther” conspiracy theorists who insisted that Barack Obama was not a natural-born American citizen and thus could not be president. Kobach sought to keep Obama’s name off the ballot in Kansas in 2012, when he was an adviser to Republican candidate Mitt Romney on immigration policy.
Kobach was close to Trump’s team throughout the 2016 race, drafting both a proposal for a Muslim immigrant registry and a plan for forcing Mexico to pay for the construction of Trump’s border wall.
Kobach has long held the unofficial duty of justifying and defending Trump’s vote-fraud claims to the public. Thursday’s announcement merely officializes that role, ensuring that a panel ostensibly tasked with investigating Trump’s claims will instead seek to vindicate them.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has hinted the group’s work will primarily focus on voting in California and New York, rather than in Midwestern states Trump won, where his own lawyers stymied recount efforts in part by arguing that “the 2016 election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”
Trump’s obsession with the idea that he didn’t really lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton last fall coexists with his bragging that his electoral college victory was historically wide. The president’s team has even decided to hang a county-by-county map of the election results, showing most of the geographical area of the United States in deep Trump-y red, on the walls of the West Wing.
Trump signed the order forming his voter fraud commission less than 48 hours after firing the man in charge of an investigation into his campaign’s interactions with the Russian government.