OPINION: Why does Trump’s fraud commission really want your voter information?
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Kansas’s Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, vice-chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, has only one purpose in asking for your registration records, including personal information such as addresses, dates of birth, political affiliation, military service, voting history, criminal convictions, and the last four digits of your social security numbers. His purpose is not to root out fraud, but to throw you off the registration rolls, especially if you are a Democrat.

Kobach is the nation’s most zealous fraud hunter. Despite bagging precious few trophies, he has spun tall tales about fraud to justify efforts at suppressing the vote. In 2011, Kobach drafted and the Republican-controlled state legislature adopted legislation that required photo voter identification for voting both at the polls and absentee, and documentary proof of citizenship for all new registrants. Kobach bragged in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Kansas was the only state in the nation to adopt all these prerequisites for voting and registration.  

In June, a federal magistrate judge sanctioned Secretary Kobach for his “deceptive conduct and lack of candor” in response to discovery requests during litigation over the Kansas proof-of-citizenship requirement. In upholding the sanction, Federal District Court Judge Julie A. Robinson noted that Kobach had exhibited a “pattern” in federal litigation of “statements made or positions taken by Secretary Kobach that have called his credibility into question.”

Kobach has continued to his “deceptive conduct” in justification of his massive data request from the states. In an op-ed published on Breitbart, Kobach claimed that this commission didn’t request that information” on the last four digits of a voters’ social security number.  Yet Kobach’s letter to the states specifically asks for “the last four digits of social security number if available.”

Kobach’s claims of rampant voter fraud to justify his omnibus 2011 law in Kansas were equally misleading. A study by the National Republican Lawyer’s Association aimed at uncovering as much voter fraud as possible, found one prosecution for voter fraud in Kansas from 2000 through 2011. When Kobach claimed lax enforcement for the failure to uncover fraud, the legislature in 2015 made him the only secretary of state in the nation authorized to investigate and prosecute cases of voter fraud.  

Kobach’s zealous efforts have so far uncovered no fraudulent votes in the 2016 general election, not the thousands that would validate President Trump’s claim of 3 to 5 million illegal votes cast nationwide, a claim that Kobach has tacitly endorsed, saying “We will probably never know the answer to that question,” of who won the popular vote. The fraud hunter has convicted just 9 persons for fraud in all prior elections, out of many millions of ballots case. All but one of these cases involved persons who double-voted in another state because they believed that could legally vote in two states in which they held property.

Despite the absence of significant voter fraud, the strict voter photo ID law in Kansas resulted in a 1.9 to 2.2 percent decline in voter turnout in Kansas according to a study by the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office. Black turnout dropped by 3.7 percentage points more than white turnout and turnout by young voters dropped more than among older voters.

Kobach has advocated the crosscheck of voter registration rolls with other lists, for example, of felons, double-registered, and deceased persons. He would surely follow this strategy if armed with state voter registration data. Such crosschecks lead to voter suppression because they generate far more false than true matches. A study by professors at Harvard and Stanford found that purging registration rolls using the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program “would eliminate about 200 registrations used to cast legitimate votes for every one registration used to cast a double vote.”

In the hands of advocates like Kobach, matching has relied on flawed lists biased against minority voters. In 2000, Florida erroneously purged thousands of persons from the voting rolls, using a flawed list that overrepresented predominantly Democratic African Americans. In 2004, Florida tried again with another flawed and biased list but was stopped by the courts and an outcry from the public.

Kobach’s commission lacks the authority at present to purge voters allegedly identified as illegal from a matching process. However, the commission will surely pressure states to do so and some may comply, precipitating lawsuits that may or may not succeed. The fact that Kobach is likely to get only incomplete information from the states, should be of no solace. The less complete the data the more likely it is to identify you falsely as in illegal voter.   

Allan J. Lichtman, PhD, is a distinguished professor of history at American University. He is the author of "The Case for Impeachment" (Dey Street Books, 2017).

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.