TOPEKA A Kansas official who later became vice chairman of President Donald Trump's commission on election fraud drafted a proposal for Trump to change federal voter registration laws to promote proof-of-citizenship requirements by states, an unsealed federal court document showed Thursday.
The proposal was part of a "strategic plan" for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security prepared by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and carried by him into a meeting in November with Trump, then the president-elect. It was among three proposals designed to "stop aliens from voting."
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson ordered a highly-edited version of the document unsealed Thursday in a voting-rights lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. Robinson also ordered the unsealing of a second document, prepared by Kobach and circulated within the Kansas secretary of state's office, showing the text of proposed changes to federal law.
The changes would allow Kansas and other states to fully enforce laws requiring new voters to provide papers documenting their U.S. citizenship when registering. The ACLU's lawsuit, filed in February 2016, challenges how Kansas administers its law and so far is keeping Kansas from enforcing the requirement for voters who register at motor vehicle offices.
Kobach has championed the proof-of-citizenship requirement as an anti-fraud measure, while the ACLU and other critics say it suppresses turnout. The ACLU's lawsuit contends that the Kansas requirement conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act, and proposed changes from Kobach could be seen as bolstering the ACLU's case.
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said the documents show Kobach had a plan to amend federal law "from the beginning," calling it the "end game" for Trump's commission.
"It just goes to show, I mean, what lengths he'll go to conceal his plans to take his voter suppression schemes national," Ho added.
Robinson ordered the documents unsealed by Oct. 12, but electronic copies were available Thursday, shortly after she issued her order. Kobach declined comment through spokeswoman Samantha Poetter.
Kobach is a conservative Republican elected Kansas secretary of state in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. He not only was the author of tough voter ID laws, but persuaded the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature in 2015 to make him the only chief state elections officer with the power to prosecute election fraud causes. He is seeking the GOP nomination for governor next year.
He was the only prominent Kansas official to back Trump before the state's GOP presidential caucuses in March 2016. He became an adviser and said he had regular contact this spring with Trump's inner circle at the White House.
He also publicly defended Trump's unsubstantiated claims that several million people voted illegally in the November election before being named to Trump's election fraud commission in May.
The copy of Kobach's strategic homeland security plan for his meeting with Trump in November was redacted except for the portion dealing with federal voter registration law. Kobach was photographed by The Associated Press bringing it to his meeting with Trump, and other portions became public through the photograph.
The second document contained five proposed changes to the National Voter Registration Act, two of which were blacked out in the copy unsealed Thursday. One item proposed adding a section saying, "Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent a state from requiring documentary proof of citizenship from any applicant."
A federal magistrate forced Kobach to turn over the two documents earlier this year, but they remained under seal while he and the ACLU battled over whether they should be part of the public court record in the voting-rights lawsuit. In July, the magistrate fined Kobach $1,000 after concluding Kobach made "patently misleading representations" about the documents.
Kobach noted in resisting their release that the Kansas Open Records Act would not require their disclosure, but Robinson pointed out that the state law "does not prohibit disclosure either." Kobach also argued that making the documents public would hurt his ability to advise the president, an argument Robinson rejected.
"The public certainly has an interest in accessing these documents in order to understand the dispute presented to this Court," Robinson wrote.