As summer comes to an end, politicians and media outlets are increasingly turning their attention to November’s general elections. Amid this attention, many are looking closely at Kansas where Secretary of State Kris Kobach is attempting to sway an election many believe is key to determining which party will hold a majority in the U.S. Senate next year.
This is entirely unsurprising given Kobach’s close relationship with the vulnerable Republican incumbent, Sen. Pat Roberts, and his history of aggressively supporting measures aimed at suppressing voter turnout.
On Sept. 3, Democrat Chad Taylor sent a letter to Kobach seeking to withdraw from the race for U.S. Senate. While Taylor has not explicitly stated this, some say he sought to withdraw in order to better Independent candidate Greg Orman’s chances of unseating Roberts. Kobach, who is a member of Robert’s honorary campaign committee, rejected Taylor’s withdrawal request. However, after Taylor appealed Kobach’s decision, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Sept. 18 that Taylor’s name be removed from the ballot.
While Kobach’s refusal to remove Taylor’s name appeared to be an obviously partisan abuse of power, it was made all the more peculiar by another of his recent decisions.
The same day Taylor submitted his withdrawal letter to Kobach’s office, Miranda Rickel, a Democratic candidate for the Kansas House of Representatives, also requested that Kobach allow her to withdraw. Rickel’s request was approved by Kobach’s office. To Kobach, it is no problem for a Democrat to withdraw from a contested election – so long as said withdrawal doesn’t threaten incumbent Republicans.
Rickel recently wrote about the incident and Kobach’s blatant partisan actions in a blog for The Guardian. In it, she frankly states, “Kobach has indeed politicized the office of secretary of state, which is normally a dull position dealing with election matters and commercial and business registrations.”
But this is only the latest instance of Kobach using his office to influence election outcomes.
Over the past year, Kobach has fervently defended a harsh voter ID law he authored that restricts many citizens’ access to the polls. Ahead of Kansas’ Aug. 5 primary elections, about 14,000 registered voters were placed “in suspense” and not able to vote for candidates running for state-level office. Simply put, voter ID laws are voter suppression. They disproportionately affect minority voters, women votes and elderly voters, categories that are more likely to support Democrats, and Kobach has long been a national advocate for them.
These laws are unfortunately not isolated to Kansas. As Ari Berman has recently reported in the The Nation, courts have upheld similar voter ID laws in North Carolina and Wisconsin. In Texas, a federal court is currently hearing arguments in a lawsuit against the state’s voter ID law brought by the Department of Justice and several minority and voting rights groups.
The actions of Kobach and other federal officials advocating similarly discriminatory policies in other states are part of a larger movement to minimize minority voting power. Rather than disenfranchise voters or act on partisan motivations to remain in power, these officials should begin promoting policies that have the support of the citizens they serve.