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Thursday, April 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Kobach, ACLU Spar as Trial Over Voter ID Law Kicks Off in Kansas

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach defended his election fraud claims Tuesday in federal court, in a voting-rights case brought by civil rights groups.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (CN) – Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach defended his election fraud claims Tuesday in federal court, in a voting-rights case brought by civil rights groups.

Kobach, an architect of voter ID laws and a gubernatorial candidate, faced off against the American Civil Liberties Union and League of Women Voters of Kansas over a Kansas law called the Secure and Fair Elections Act (SAFE) that requires voters to show proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate or passport.

Along with Vice President Mike Pence, Kobach co-chaired President Donald Trump’s voting-fraud commission which was dismantled after several states refused to hand over voter information.

Before opening statements in the bench trial commenced, the ACLU’s lead attorney Dale Ho asked the court to remove an updated exhibit of voter registration attempts by noncitizens, which Kobach submitted at 10:45 p.m. the day before trial.

“It’s just the latest evidence of the plaintiff’s trial by ambush,” Ho said.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson agreed to remove the data, stating that Kobach’s team violated the rule that evidence must be introduced no less than 24 hours before the start of trial.

“The whole point of it is so everybody knows what the evidence is,” Robinson said. “We’re going to live and die by the numbers already submitted.”

Kobach, who has already been admonished over various tactics, was fined $1,000 for misleading the court by making “patently misleading representations” about the nature of voting law proposals he shared with Trump after the election in November 2016.

Trump claims millions of illegal ballots were cast in the 2016 election, but has never offered evidence to back up the story. Hillary Clinton led Trump by more than 2.5 million popular votes but lost the electoral vote.

At issue is a Kansas law, enacted in 2013, requiring citizenship documents in order to register to vote. That requirement violates the National Voter Registration Act, according to the ACLU.

“About 1 in 7 people who applied to register to vote saw their registration applications rejected,” Ho said in a public statement on Monday.

In his opening statements on Tuesday, Ho said the SAFE voter ID law is burdensome to Kansas voters and Kobach’s numbers regarding the amount of noncitizens voting are inaccurate.

“Out of 127 noncitizens who attempted to register, only 43 succeeded,” Ho said, adding that with 1.8 million registered voters in the state, that figure amounts to .007 percent of all total voters.

Ho questioned the credibility of one of Kobach’s expert witnesses, Jesse Richman, a political scientist at Old Dominion University. He cited one of Richman’s studies on illegal voting that used only 14 people as a sample size, and noted Richman’s work had been criticized by more than 200 political scientists.

“Even ignoring all of that, Richman’s work can’t show anything other than a nominal amount (of noncitizens voting),” Ho said.

Ho said Kobach and the state failed to try other less extreme methods to stop voter fraud, including better training for state employees and use of the national Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements database.

“He hasn’t even meaningfully tried these options,” Ho said. “Enforcing this law is like taking a bazooka to a fly.”

Kobach faces an uphill battle in the week ahead. He not only has to prove that the law does not violate the National Voting Rights Act, but he also has to prove that voter fraud runs rampant in the state. In a separate federal lawsuit, Kobach was blocked from requiring citizenship documents from voters who register with the DMV.

Rather than hand the case off to a state attorney, Kobach has chosen to represent himself in the matter. The gubernatorial candidate is known for making frequent appearances on conservative talk shows and focusing the spotlight on voter ID laws.

Kobach claims the Kansas law prevents noncitizens from voting in elections, while opponents like the ACLU say the law makes it more difficult for valid citizens to vote and often disenfranchises them.

In his opening statement, Kobach said he can prove that thousands of noncitizens have registered to vote in the state by using Richman’s data.

“We can estimate noncitizens in Kansas in the thousands,” Kobach said, depending on Richman’s data that claims 1,000 to over 18,000 noncitizens are registered voters in Kansas.

Kobach said that prior to SAFE, the state had no way of knowing how many noncitizens were voting given the old method that required people to check boxes stating that they were citizens of the U.S. and of Kansas.

“Just having someone sign something is nothing,” Kobach said. “It’s inadequate.”

Kobach used the metaphor of a roof on a house and its job to keep out the rain.

“If hundreds of drops are coming through, we would say the roof is failing.” Kobach said.

Since 2015, Kobach – who holds prosecutorial power – has convicted nine people of voter fraud. Of the nine, only one was a noncitizen.

The trial is scheduled to continue until early next week.

Categories / Civil Rights, Regional, Trials

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