Kris Kobach's Exception Proves the Rule
Kris Kobach spent the last decade a crusader against voting rights. He rails against absentee voting and supports ruthless voter I.D. and proof-of-citizenship requirements. He, along with the President and others in the administration, was instrumental in pushing the fiction that three million voters cast illegal votes in the 2016 election. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by just shy of that number. If she'd won the popular vote by nine million votes, I'm quite certain that Kobach would have reason to believe ten million were cast illegally. It's horse shit.
Democrats, voting rights activists, and groups like the ACLU have argued repeatedly that laws Kobach put in place in Kansas and proposed as an advisor to the Trump Administration are designed to disenfranchise poor, young, black, and Latino voters. In the 1950s and 1960s, states rarely had laws on the books that banned black voters from voting. They had race-neutral laws with which black voters were less able to comply, or that could be enforced more or less stringently depending on the complexion of the registrant. The ostensible race-neutrality of a law is never a defense of its legitimacy. Republican officials are generally indifferent to that history.
But Kris Kobach is knee-deep in a potential recount right now.
He's running for governor of Kansas and leads his Republican primary opponent by 121 votes with all precincts reporting. Kobach is currently Secretary of State in Kansas, which means he oversees state-wide elections. That gives him considerable power to lobby for and enforce laws that improve his chances in a statewide election, but it's unclear how much power that gives him over an election after the votes are cast. His opponent, incumbent Governor Jeff Colyer, said of Kobach's conduct in the days since the polls closed:
"It has come to my attention that your office is giving advice to county election officials – as recently as a conference call yesterday -- and you are making public statements on national television which are inconsistent with Kansas law and may serve to suppress the vote in the ongoing Kansas primary election process."
Kobach is unscrupulous and has little problem using the powers of his office to increase his odds. But it's worth noting which weapons he's chosen to hold back.
Kobach's aspirations for higher office hang by less than a tenth of a percentage point with only heaps of provisional and absentee ballots left to count. Yet he has not questioned the legitimacy of those votes, claimed that they were cast by illegal immigrants, or said he'd challenge them in court.
Kansas's voting-age population is 81.3% white, fifteen points higher than the country as a whole. Republicans are far more likely to be white than an average voter. About 88% of Trump's 2016 voters were white compared with 70% of the electorate as a whole and only 55% of Clinton voters. Midterm elections tend to be several points whiter than general elections. The 2014 Kansas gubernatorial election, in particular, was 88% white. Governor Sam Brownback won the election with a coalition that was 90% white. A Republican primary is, historically speaking, likely to be much whiter even than the Republican general electorate.
Kris Kobach spends most of his time traveling Kansas and the country stoking fear and resentment. He's a two-bit demagogue who makes up justifications for his brutal laws and scapegoats people of color and poor working people to shore up his own base. He's been caught withholding evidence from courts in order to better paint a picture of his dystopian broken electoral system. What he says and does should be more than enough to convince an observer of his motives. But perhaps it's the exception that proves the rule.
With his own fate in the balance, he's hesitant to bang his fists on the table and yell about voter fraud. That's because he knows exactly what people hear when he does. The electorate in his Kansas Republican primary is likely far upwards of 90% white. Beyond reproach. There's no sense questioning the citizenship of a group of Republicans, much less a group that is even more overwhelmingly white than usual. That's because, when he talks about "voter fraud" and "election integrity," Kris Kobach knows exactly what he's doing.
We'd do well to remember that.