On Wednesday, a federal judge ordered the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to modify federal voter registration forms to accommodate a harsh voter suppression law drafted by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The decision allows Kobach’s SAFE Act, which placed nearly 20,000 voters’ eligibility in limbo. The quandary forced Kobach to devise a two-tiered system in which those whose voter status was “in suspense” would only be eligible to vote in federal elections. Reports indicate that number has since gone down to 15,700.
Thanks to Wednesday’s decision, many of them won’t be able to vote at all.
A dangerous precedent has been set with this ruling. Now states have been given the go-ahead by a federal judge to be even more harsh and have even more ability to disproportionately limit the participation of minority voters in elections. Operating under the auspices of combating voter fraud and defending “election integrity,” measures like Kobach’s SAFE Act are little more than direct voter disenfranchisement.
Despite the clear evidence that voter fraud is exceedingly rare and has no impact on the outcome of elections, proponents of voter suppression measures continue to insist such measures must be enacted. Some like Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne even opt for conspiracy theories when sufficient evidence of fraud cannot be found.
“There’s been a cover-up by the media of the extent to which voter fraud is a problem,” Horne told the Associated Press Wednesday after the ruling.
Kobach himself is certainly guilty of hyping this supposed threat as well. Last summer when his SAFE Act was under intense scrutiny, Kobach authored an absurd op-ed in which he trumpeted 221 cases of alleged voter fraud over thirteen years. One of those allegations included a supposedly dead man voting in 1996. As the Wichita Eagle later reported, the man was still “very much alive.”
Of the 221 cases, only seven ended in a conviction. Even if those 221 cases of fraud are legitimate – and if they occurred during the same election (they didn’t) – they would have no discernible impact on election results in state with 1.77 million registered voters like Kansas did in 2012. However, 15,000 voters, such as those currently disenfranchised by Kansas’ SAFE Act, could certainly influence state-level elections. This includes a contest this year where Kobach is seeking re-election – which, as a midterm election, traditionally features a lower voter turnout. To that, Kobach would likely say, “nothing to see here, folks.”
Given his affinity for meddling with the legal affairs of states outside the one in which he was elected to serve, Kobach is no doubt encouraged by this ruling’s potential. Indeed, after the decision he said it was not merely a “big victory” for Kansas and Arizona – whose Secretary of State joined him in filing suit against the EAC – “but for all 50 states.” These efforts are certainly helped with the introduction of pro-voter suppression PACs like SOS for SoS whose stated purpose is to support secretary candidates promoting suppression measures. Those familiar with Kobach and his stalwart dedication to demonizing minority communities know that Wednesday will not be the last time Kobach is seen in court defending these extreme policies.
As was noted last week, these voter suppression measures stem from nativists’ anxieties of being confronted with our country’s changing demographics. Laws like the SAFE Act may quell them slightly, but these anxieties will inevitably grow. Nativists can fight to suppress the voice of voters all they want, but history is on the side of true democracy and justice.