Skip to main content Accessibility

Weekend Read: Kris Kobach wants to decide who has the right to vote

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has long had an appetite for nativist, anti-immigrant thinking.

It led him to work as the legal counsel to a hate group. It led him to become the architect behind harsh anti-immigrant laws. And, recently, it led him to champion an anti-voter fraud effort at a time when restrictive voting laws frequently disenfranchise minority voters.

Kobach began removing people from his state’s voter rolls in 2015, making anyone who did not provide proof of citizenship within 90 days ineligible to vote.

“It’s no big deal,” he once said, according to The New York Times Magazine. “Nobody’s being disenfranchised.”

Marvin Brown didn’t see it that way. A 91-year-old World War II veteran, Brown saw voting as a person’s “reasonable and honorable duty.” He had flown so many bombing missions that the Air Force lost count. In 1946, he paid a poll tax of $2 to ensure his right to vote.

“I told Kobach, ‘That hurts inside real deep.’” Brown said to the magazine.

But Kobach calls himself a “fanatic” of “restoring the rule of law,” Ari Berman reported this week in a lengthy profile of Kobach for The New York Times Magazine.

For Kobach, the fight to stop what he calls “noncitizens” from voting is intimately related to his fight to restrict immigration to the United States. Berman writes:

Years before Donald Trump began talking about building a wall, the fate of America’s white majority was a matter of considerable interest to Kobach, who once agreed with a caller to his radio show that a rise in Latino immigration could lead to the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of whites.

“My hope is that Kansas will be to stopping election fraud what Arizona is to stopping illegal immigration,” Kobach once told The Kansas City Star.

Berman notes that Kobach’s worldview is rooted in his early tutelage under Samuel Huntington, who denounced the “Hispanization” of the United States and argued in his most recent book that while “Muslims pose the immediate problem to Europe, Mexicans pose the problem for the United States.”

Kobach went on to serve as counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), whose founder, John Tanton, frequently corresponded with eugenicists. In a 1993 letter to Garrett Hardin, Tanton wrote, "I've come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that." The Southern Poverty Law Center named FAIR as a hate group in 2007.

Kobach’s interest in such thinking has not abated. As Berman writes:

Kobach’s chilling narrative of deceitful foreigners subverting democracy has served him well. Making people believe that voter fraud is rampant builds public support for policies that restrict access to the ballot. And claims of illegal voting by noncitizens help justify Kobach’s hard-line anti-immigration agenda.

However alarming his claims, Kobach has successfully convicted just nine people of voter fraud since 2015 — primarily senior citizens who own property in more than one state. The reality – only one noncitizen conviction – hardly resembles Kobach’s alarmist claims.

But Kobach has built his career on his descriptions of such imaginary treachery by minority groups. He even backed President Trump’s claim that ballots cast by noncitizens cost him the popular vote. The dearth of evidence for Kobach’s various claims, however, has done little to counter the appeal of his narrative. Named in May as vice chair a presidential commission on election integrity, Kobach has the ear of President Trump and the support of like-minded nativists around the country.

SPLC president Richard Cohen will sit down with Berman next week to talk about his piece on Kobach and the myth of voter fraud. You can tune in to the conversation on our Facebook page Thursday at 7 p.m. EDT whether or not you have a Facebook account yourself. Be sure to follow our page so you’ll receive a notification when we start.

The Editors.

P.S. Here are a few other pieces we think are valuable this week:

SPLC's Weekend Reads are a weekly summary of the most important reporting and commentary from around the country on civil rights, economic and racial inequity, and hate and extremism. Sign up to receive Weekend Reads every Saturday morning.