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Story highlights

Waldman: President Trump has turned to Kris Kobach to figure out what should be done about the American election system

Expect him to recommend more restrictions, more hurdles, more suppression of votes, Waldman says

Editor’s Note: Paul Waldman is a senior writer with The American Prospect, a left-leaning magazine, and a blogger for The Washington Post. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) —  

When the White House said a few months ago that it would be forming a commission to investigate voter fraud, some laughed. After all, this bold action was prompted by President Donald Trump’s delusional insistence that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for the millions of people who voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.

Were they going to appoint a commission on How Trump Had the Biggest Inaugural Crowd in History while they were at it?

Paul Waldman
PHOTO: Courtesy of Paul Waldman
Paul Waldman

But now it’s not so funny. Trump has signed an executive order creating the Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, and it will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach serving as vice chair. Kobach’s involvement shows that this is a deadly serious enterprise, one whose goal is to take Republican vote suppression efforts nationwide.

If you’ve heard of Kris Kobach, it’s probably because of his endless crusade to convince people that every election brings a wave of illegal votes – undocumented immigrants streaming to the polls, dead people voting, people voting in multiple states – and this scourge on our democracy can only be stopped with laws that put hurdles in front of the exercise of the franchise.

Two years ago, Kobach prevailed upon Kansas lawmakers to give him the power to prosecute voter fraud cases, an authority no other secretary of state in the country has. Despite Kobach’s tireless efforts, he has managed to successfully prosecute only eight cases of voter fraud, among the millions of votes cast in his state over that time. Only one involved an undocumented immigrant.

Last year, the Kansas City Star published an editorial entitled “Kris Kobach is a big fraud on Kansas voter fraud,” citing his McCarthyite tendency to throw around seemingly invented numbers about all the fraud happening in his state, without ever providing any evidence.

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Indeed, in the country at large, numerous studies have found that the incidence of voter impersonation in particular is vanishingly small. One study that examined 14 years of elections in the entire country found only 31 cases of potential voter fraud over a time when more than a billion votes were cast.

But Republicans know that putting up impediments to voting, such as requiring photo IDs, limiting early voting times, and cutting back on the number of polling places, makes it more likely that Republicans will win. Those measures make it less likely that the kind of people who will vote for Democrats – particularly African-Americans but also Latinos, young people, and urban dwellers – will manage to register and vote. It’s a thumb on the scale that can sometimes be enough to do the job.

And now President Trump has turned to Kris Kobach to figure out what should be done about the American election system. There’s no doubt what he’ll recommend: more restrictions, more hurdles, more suppression of votes that by some inexplicable coincidence are precisely the ones most likely to be cast for Democrats.

Then Republicans in statehouses and on Capitol Hill will take the recommendations and work to enshrine them into law. I wish it were just something we could laugh at, but it isn’t.