Watch CNN’s Special Report “Democracy in Peril: The War on Voting Rights” Friday, November 2 at 11 p.m. ET.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been called many things.
“A tireless champion for voter security,” President Donald Trump once praised.
“The architect of voter suppression nationwide,” and “vote suppressor in chief,” critics Ari Berman, an author, and Jason Kander, a politician, have warned.
“The ACLU’s worst nightmare,” an announcer declared at the start of each episode of Kobach’s former talk radio show.
When we sat down with Kobach in his Topeka office for a rare interview, we learned he is some of those things and more – a zealot who believes voter fraud exists and it is his mission to stop it. He is a preacher to the converted. He refuses to acknowledge well-established evidence that voter fraud is extremely rare – that, for example, stealing someone’s identity to vote is less likely than being struck by lightning, as the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law put it.
When Trump claimed he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” he and White House advisers Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller pointed to Kobach. Since the 2016 election, Trump’s repeated assertions of widespread voter fraud have been debunked over and over again.
Kobach was also the man Trump tapped to lead his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. At its first meeting in July 2017, the President declared, “Any form of illegal or fraudulent voting, whether by non-citizens or the deceased, and any form of voter suppression or intimidation must be stopped… I look forward to the findings and recommendations your report will produce … the full truth will be known and exposed, if necessary, in the light of day.”
Less than six months after it convened, the Commission disbanded without ever releasing any findings.
Voting access controversies arise
Today, Kobach is the GOP candidate for governor of Kansas. He’s the leading proponent for the strictest voting laws in the nation and a controversial figure featured in the forthcoming CNN documentary, “Democracy in Peril: The War on Voting Rights,” premiering Friday, November 2 at 11 p.m.
For the better part of a year, our team has traveled across the country meeting people at the front lines who work tirelessly in the lead up to election day: the activists, the politicians, the lawmakers, and the academic researchers who study voting. We interviewed older people who have voted in elections for decades but who are suddenly dealing with obstacles in casting their ballot. We met a man who faced years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines as he was prosecuted for voter fraud. We sat down with plaintiffs bringing their landmark case to the US Supreme Court because of fears their votes will not matter.
In the weeks leading up to the November 6 midterm elections, voting access controversies have been flaring up from coast to coast.
Under a new requirement in North Dakota, Native Americans must show specific forms of photo ID bearing their street address. The problem is there are few actual street names on the reservations. Many Native American residents receive their mail by P.O. box and do not know their address, much less have a photo ID with it imprinted. Critics say this is an additional layer of bureaucracy that suppresses this community. North Dakota is where Democrat Heidi Heitkamp won her Senate seat by fewer than 3,000 votes in 2012.
Over the summer, controversy swirled after a proposal to close seven of nine polling places in a majority-black county in Georgia.
A recent CNN investigation found that one suburban Georgia county tossed hundreds of absentee ballots due to discrepancies with birthdates, addresses and matching signatures. Of the 595 rejected absentee ballots in Gwinnett County, more than 300 belonged to African-Americans and Asian-Americans. Last week, a federal court judge ordered Georgia election officials to halt the rejection of absentee ballots due to mismatched signatures.
A struggle in Georgia
Meanwhile, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is also the Republican nominee for governor, faces backlash and lawsuits after the Associated Press reported his office suspended more than 53,000 voter applications. Almost 70% were registrations by African-Americans. Kemp’s office maintains that those voters will be allowed to vote, most likely by provisional ballot, if they bring the proper ID.
Kemp’s Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, says the suspended list is a classic example of voter suppression.
“What about those low-propensity voters… They don’t know they can go to the polls,” she said. “They get a confusing letter saying there is something wrong with their registration, and, more than likely, they will sit out this election. The miasma of fear that is created by voter suppression is as much about terrifying people about trying to vote as it is about blocking their ability to do so.”
The Kemp campaign calls the accusations of voter suppression in Georgia “bogus” and points to a “record high” of voter registrations and turnout under Kemp’s tenure.