New efforts are under way to influence secretary of state elections across the country, and several media outlets are taking note. One organization in particular, SOS for SoS PAC, has garnered attention for its stated purpose of supporting secretary candidates that explicitly support voter suppression measures in their respective states.
In most states, the secretary of state serves as the chief elections officer. Campaigns for the important state-level position have been relatively inexpensive in the past. SOS chairman Gregg Phillips — whose committee is working to raise as much as $10 million into state races — told Politico that outside money can have a huge impact on these elections. “I read that the average secretary of state race costs $500,000, which is pretty amazing in this day and age,” he said. “The import of all of this, and $500,000 can make a difference.”
While the names of some receiving this new outside money from SOS and other groups, all candidates all have one thing in common: they have a proven track record of suppressing votes — or attempts to do so.
Primary voter-suppression tactics include requiring voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot and limiting access to early voting. These practices disproportionately affect women and minority communities and are often viewed as an unnecessary burden to prevent a virtually nonexistent problem.
Perhaps the most recognizable SOS-backed candidate is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whose failing policies have made the him the national face of ongoing voter suppression efforts that have disenfranchised thousands of voters.
In addition to his work in Kansas, Kobach frequently travels to courtrooms across the country to defend anti-immigrant legislation he has authored. Kobach stresses that these efforts are done on his own time and when he does leave Kansas, he often represents the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) — the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s (FAIR) legal arm. These connections could also explain why last year as Republicans weighed their options on immigration reform, members of the anti-immigrant movement began producing materials denying demographic realities and recommended Republicans refocus their efforts attracting white voters rather than increase outreach efforts towards minority communities.
Some of the other states SOS has set its sights on include:
- Iowa: Current Secretary of State Matt Schultz will be seeking a seat representing Iowa in the U.S. Congress instead of reelection. Last year, Schultz spent $150,000 of taxpayer money on an investigation that failed to produced any significant evidence of voter fraud in the state. Former Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate has announce he will run for Schultz’s office. Last month, Pate dismissed criticism of suppression measures, saying, “We can argue all day on what kind, where at and is it going to impede voter access,” Iowa’s Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier reported.
- Colorado: Incumbent Scott Gessler, a longtime ally of Kobach and has regularly pursued suppression measures in his state, is leaving his seat to run for governor. El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams seems primed to be the Republican nominee given the myriad endorsements from Republican officials in the state he has already received.
- Arizona: While Secretary Ken Bennett is currently joining Kris Kobach in suing the federal government, he will not seek reelection. Three announced candidates include State Sen. Michelle Reagan, State Rep. Justin Pierce, and Wil Cardon, an Arizona businessman. Cardon’s campaign website shows the most explicit support for voter ID laws, and he received the endorsement of Kobach-approved State Rep. Steve Montenegro last year.
- Michigan: SOS has indicated that it will support incumbent secretary Ruth Johnson who oversaw the implementation of Michigan’s voter ID requirements. In the past, Johnson derided opposition to the requirements as “partisan theatrics.”
- New Mexico: Incumbent Diana Duran has previously voiced support for suppression measures. Additionally, on her watch in 2012, six counties ran out of English-language voter registration forms — prohibiting potential new voters from registering.
- Ohio: Incumbent Jon Husted will seek reelection this year and will have the assistance of SOS. Husted’s efforts to limit early voting in predominantly minority communities are well documented. Additionally Ohio has joined Kris Kobach’s Interstate Voter Crosscheck Program under Husted’s watch.
- Arkansas: Under incumbent Mark Martin, the Arkansas Legislature passed voter ID requirements and overrode Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto. Equipment to enforce the new law was recently installed in all of Arkansas’ 75 counties. Martin also serves on the National Advisory Board of the Kobach-chaired Secure States Initiative.
Because these policies disproportionately affect communities of color, appealing to white voters would be the only option for Republicans’ political survival — for a few more years, perhaps. However, perpetuating such systematic disenfranchisement is not a sustainable model. Because of whom these policies negatively impact, it is unfortunate yet understandable why they would seem appealing to nativists like Kobach and others within the organized anti-immigrant movement. That said, voter suppression measures are also inherently anti-democratic and serve no purpose other than to undermine the principles of inclusiveness and a government of, by and for the people that our country was founded upon.