Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
The mainstream media has simply missed the voting rights trial whose outcome could unleash the newest mass vote suppression weapon, the invention of Donald Trump’s chief vote suppression tactician, Kris Kobach of Kansas.
On Tuesday, the trial of the lawsuit by the League of Women Voters against Kobach, Kansas’ Republican Secretary of State, began in a Wichita courtroom. The League has sued to block the state’s law, drafted by Kobach, requiring all new voters to show proof of citizenship.
Kobach’s law has blocked an astonishing 1 in 7 new registrants from voting in the state because they did not satisfy his citizenship paperwork requirement.
The ACLU, which represents the League, has sent in its top litigators, led by its voting rights director Dale Ho, because of the nationwide implications of the case. If Kobach’s law is upheld and spreads to other GOP controlled states, just over one million Americans could lose their right to vote by 2020.
Oddly, Kobach has chosen a lawyer with little courtroom knowledge—himself.
Judge Julie Robinson was not amused by what many see as a publicity stunt. Robinson, the chief justice of the federal district for Kansas, excoriated Kobach for not knowing “Evidence 101,” and curtly coached Kobach’s amateur team on the correct procedure for cross-examination.
Buffoonish antics in the courtroom drew some laughter. But the partisan result of Kobach’s law is deadly serious. According to the ACLU’s expert witness, University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, nearly half (44.6%) of the voters blocked are young, 18 to 29 years old.
It cannot be lost on Kobach, former Chairman of the Kansas GOP, that young Americans voted overwhelmingly Democratic, 55% for Clinton and only 36% for Trump in 2016.
To justify the paper proof-of-citizenship requirement, Kobach told the court the requirement has blocked 30,000 non-citizens from voting in Kansas. However, he has been unable to prove that even a single one of the 35,314 voters blocked by the law is an alien.
Kobach’s Alien Voter Hunt
Just after the 2016 election, Secretary Kobach called me to confirm he was the source of Donald Trump’s claim that a million aliens voted in the 2016 election. (Kobach also confirmed it was his idea to force Mexico to pay for Trump’s border wall.)
Noting to Kobach that he is the nation’s only Secretary of State with the power to prosecute illegal voters, I asked if he planned mass arrests of alien voters. (Kobach had claimed on Fox News, for example, that “50 Somalians are stealing my vote!”)
Kobach told me, “Just wait! Convictions are coming.”
I’ve waited. But so far, his manhunt, begun five years ago, has produced just a single conviction of a non-citizen voter out of 1.8 million Kansas registrants. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of Kansans are blocked because they cannot produce the evidence—an original birth certificate or passport or naturalization papers—his law requires.
Call From the Prison Parking Lot?
Not surprisingly, lower-income voters are less likely to hold these documents—and less likely to vote Republican. Voters earning less than $50,000 per year voted 53% to 41% against Trump.
And no, neither a driver’s license nor a Social Security card proves citizenship. The alternative, obtaining a birth certificate, can be a costly paper chase, as plaintiff Donna Bucci testified. Bucci, who gets by on the limited income she earns working in a local prison cafeteria, told the court Tuesday that she could not pay both her rent and the $50-$60 total cost to obtain her birth certificate from Maryland.
Kobach cross-examined her, hoping to get Bucci to admit to simple laziness. Kobach asked her why she didn’t call during work hours to arrange a special hearing before a state agency. Bucci replied that no cell phones are allowed inside prisons. Kobach attacked, asking why she couldn’t have run to her car during a break and phoned from the parking lot.
But even if Bucci had reached officials and obtained a hearing date, it would cost her a day of work, assuming she would be allowed the day off, to attend the hearing.
Judge Robinson will have to determine whether this bureaucratic rigmarole constitutes an unfair obstacle to voting. The National Voter Registration Act permits states to require only the “minimum amount” of information from a voter.
Up to now, “minimum” has meant checking the box on a registration form by which you swear, under penalty of imprisonment, that you are a citizen, and signing your name, to complete the registration form.
Neither Kobach nor his spokeswoman has responded to our requests for comment.
The jury-less bench trial is expected to run through Friday.
Greg Palast’s film about Kris Kobach and his various vote suppression schemes, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: The Case of the Stolen Election, has just been released by Amazon.