Topeka As Secretary of State Kris Kobach tries to put in place more rules before a Kansan can vote, his associations are being highlighted by critics of his effort.
The Southern Poverty Law Center earlier this month released a report focusing on Kobach’s legal and advocacy work to pass measures in cities and states that Kobach says are designed to combat illegal immigration.
But the law center, a nonprofit civil rights group based in Birmingham, Ala., says his proposals are misguided, have led to expensive legal challenges and have stirred up racial tensions.
“Behind all of this stands one man: Kris Kobach, a former Kansas City law professor who was just elected Kansas secretary of state,” the report says.
Kobach has been legal counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
The Southern Poverty Law Center says FAIR is a racist organization. The center’s report on Kobach describes the Republican as a political opportunist, comparing him to the character of con man Harold Hill in the musical “The Music Man.”
“Like Hill, they say, Kobach comes to town with big ideas and a can-do attitude but leaves behind a trail of tears — huge legal bills and unworkable laws coupled with social turmoil,” the report said.
Kobach called the report a hit piece.
“The Southern Poverty Law Center has been saying negative things about me for a long time,” Kobach said. He said the group has “basically become a left-wing smear organization.”
Under his voting bill, Kansans would need a photo ID to vote. New voters would have to prove they are citizens to register to vote. Penalties for violating election laws would be increased, and Kobach would have more powers to prosecute allegations of election fraud. Kobach says the changes are necessary to ensure Kansas elections are free of improprieties.
Democrats oppose the legislation and say they are alarmed by Kobach’s “power grab.”
“I would seriously question giving Kris Kobach prosecution power, and wonder if he would be able to use those objectively. He is a partisan Republican,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka. Kobach once served as chairman of the Kansas Republican Party.
During that time, Kobach said in a newsletter to state Republicans, “To date, the Kansas GOP has identified and caged more voters in the last 11 months than the previous two years.”
Voter caging is a term that often refers to voter suppression efforts, but at the time Kansas Republican Party officials said Kobach’s use of the term meant the party was trying to identify voters and their views on certain issues.
But the Kansas chapter of the NAACP hasn’t forgotten the incident. In a recent news release, the group said Kobach’s new bill would “institutionalize vote caging” by forcing voters to produce multiple documents that the secretary of state’s office could then scrutinize in search of irregularities.
Kobach says his proposal to increase the office’s prosecutorial authority is necessary because local prosecutors, dealing with limited resources, often don’t pursue complaints of voting irregularities.