Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach confirmed in a letter Thursday that the single objective of President Donald Trump’s commission on voting is to find evidence to corroborate the president’s lie that voter fraud impacted the 2016 election.
Kobach, who serves as co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, asked all 50 secretaries of state to provide him with “publicly-available voter roll data” including voters’ full names, addresses, dates of birth, political party, last four digits of social security numbers, voter history, felony convictions, and other identifying information.
The letter does not say how Kobach or Vice President Mike Pence, the commission chair, plan to use the information or how they will keep it secure.
In Kansas, the secretary of state’s office has used an arsenal of intrusive methods to find alleged non-citizen voters, according to an internal document obtained exclusively by ThinkProgress in April. In one case, Kobach’s office compared voter rolls to a list of temporary drivers licenses issued to non-citizens. It also commissioned two outside firms to poll non-citizens about their voting habits using drivers’ license information and other data, and it asked the Department of Homeland Security to compare a list of suspected non-citizen voters against its list of naturalized citizens.
The extensive voter data Kobach is now requesting from secretaries of state across the country raises the possibility that the commission will use those same methods to probe these voter rolls for suspected non-citizens or for people registered in more than one state, with huge potential to disenfranchise many legitimate voters.
Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill (D) raised those concerns on Thursday, saying her state would share the requested information but would withhold protected data. In return, she asked Kobach to share any memos or additional information from commission meetings because the group has not been open about its mission.
“This lack of openness is all the more concerning, considering… Kobach has a lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas,” she said in a statement. “The courts have repudiated his methods on multiple occasions but often after the damage has been done to voters. Given Secretary Kobach’s history we find it very difficult to have confidence in the work of this Commission.”
In his May executive order, Trump said the commission would be bipartisan and would look into both voter fraud and suppression. But major voting groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, urged Democrats not to participate in a body they claim will turn into a witch hunt for fraud with the goal of passing more suppressive voting laws.
Instead of enlisting prominent Democratic election experts, Kobach and the commission found low-profile people, like a West Virginia county clerk and a former Arkansas state legislator who told ThinkProgress he wasn’t sure himself why he was chosen.
Other Democratic commission members, including Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, said they hoped the group would also examine Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The letter makes no mention of those plans.
The letter also makes no mention of the large and growing number of voter suppression laws that have swept across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center have warned that the commission will be a distraction from these laws, which they say are the biggest voting-related problem of our time.
Kobach has been called a chief architect of those laws. He is the only secretary of state in the country with the power to prosecute people for committing voter fraud. He also enacted a system in Kansas in 2015 that suspended tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls.
“It’s no big deal,” Kobach once said, according to The New York Times Magazine. “Nobody’s being disenfranchised.”
By requiring states to provide the commission with examples of voter fraud, Kobach will be able to push the false narrative that fraud is prevalent. Once he sends that report to the president, he will push for a federal voter registration system similar to the one that disenfranchised voters in Kansas.
It’s a plan he’s been working on for years, but has not had the opportunity to act on until now.
“My hope is that Kansas will be to stopping election fraud what Arizona is to stopping illegal immigration,” he told The Kansas City Star in 2011, when Arizona has one of country’s strictest anti-immigration laws still in effect.
UPDATE: On Wednesday, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division sent election officials in some states a request for policies and procedures about how they maintain their voting rolls—part of its enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act:
There’s no indication the DOJ request is related to the separate request from the Election Integrity Commission, but the National Voter Registration Act is at the heart of two federal lawsuits challenging a Kansas law, drafted and championed by Kobach, that requires residents to show proof of citizenship before they can complete their voter registration.
In one of those cases, Kobach has successfully fought to keep drafts of proposed changes to the National Voter Registration Act confidential.