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Kobach, Voter ID and the threats to Women’s Suffrage

Lauren Taylor • Aug 26, 2014

On Aug 26, 1920, women in the United States won the right to vote. Almost a century later, women’s access to the ballot is now at risk again. Laws that have targeted poor and minority voters are also disproportionately impacting women – particularly those laws that require Voter ID and proof of citizenship.

No one is more central to those concerted attacks on voting rights than Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has spearheaded a larger push to elect Secretary of State candidates nationwide who will leverage their positions to suppress votes.

Of course, those efforts are touted under the false premise of preventing voter fraud. Just yesterday, Kobach was featured on NPR scapegoating immigrants as a threat to voting integrity.

This November, Kobach will be up for re-election, and so will be forced to defend his record as a national leader within the GOP, one renowned for linking together attacks on immigrants and voting rights.

Recent Anti-Immigrant Advocacy

One would presume that being Secretary of State amounts to a full-time job, but Kobach’s schedule is full of work for the national anti-immigrant movement that distracts him from his constituents. For example, he serves as counsel for the legal arm of the organized nativist movement at the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), and he has already announced plans to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s pending plans for administrative relief for immigrants. Such an effort will mirror his current lawsuit filed against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an administrative relief program enacted in 2012.

Defending Voter Suppression

Just yesterday, Kobach was scheduled to make a case in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals defending Kansas’s SAFE Act, a harsh law that combines a strict voter ID law and proof of citizenship requirements. His SAFE Act creates a two-tiered voting system that blocks 19,000 Kansans from casting a vote in state and local elections.

This week, Kobach will also defend a similar law in Arizona. The court’s decision in that case will impact other states currently considering a similar two tiered voting system, which highlights the heart of the issue.

Kobach has national ambitions.

From his seemingly isolated position in his home state, the Yale graduate is targeting as many voters and ballots as his movement can. In a 2012 interview, Kobach infamously explained some of his ambitions: “Ideally, Kansas can become a place where conservative ideas of government are tried and exported to other states.”

Rollbacks for Women

The laws he is currently promoting require not only a valid photo ID at the voting booth but also proof of citizenship. A person’s name on her or his valid ID must also be consistent with her or his name on voter registration rolls. And while that might seem intuitive, in practice many people change their names – especially women who marry and divorce. For those who have done so, hurdles as significant as they are unnecessary instantly appear.

And the impact is clear.

A survey conducted by The Brennan Center survey reveals that “just 48 percent of voting-age women have easy access to their birth certificates, and 66 percent of those women have access to proof of citizenship with their current legal names.” Such data plays out in Kansas, which is one of ten states where strict Voter ID and proof of citizenship laws create intense barriers to women’s suffrage.

Beyond the issue of name changes, Voter ID laws disproportionately impact women. Stemming from that, people of color and especially women of color are particularly hard-hit by voter suppression measures.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice found that women of color were less likely than white women to have a photo-ID, and more likely to take advantage of same day voter registration and early voting. According to another study by the Brennan Center, “African-Americans are more than three times as likely as Caucasians to lack a government-issued photo ID, with one in four African-Americans owning no such ID.”

Broader Consequences

In addition disproportionately barring African-Americans and women from voting, voter suppression laws pushed by Kobach and his cohort also disenfranchise recently naturalized citizens, those over 65, the poor, people born out of state and students.

So, most people.

On both voting rights and immigration enforcement, Kobach has consistently and repeatedly tested what the courts will tolerate and what Kansans will endure. Voters across the country have reason to pay close attention to this November’s election in Kansas, as perhaps a large percentage could one day find they’re barred from their local voting site in their own states.

Lauren Taylor is a field organizer at the Center for New Community.

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