Trump anoints the duke of vote suppression

When Donald Trump chose the head of a new Commission on Election Integrity, he picked a man who knows a lot about how votes are stolen, writes Ryan de Laureal.

Donald Trump and Kansas Secretary of State Chris KobachDonald Trump and Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach

THE REPUBLICANS know a thing or two about "election integrity."

Whether it's redrawing the map of districts in states they control to ensure their opponents always lose or Jeb Bush helping his brother win the presidency in 2000 by purging thousands of minority voters from the rolls--wherever "election integrity" is an issue, you'll find the GOP.

But of all the party's racist villains, one stands out from all the rest in terms of his dedication to the task of "safeguarding" the country's electoral process: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

So when Trump decided on May 11, via executive order, to create a so-called Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, in an attempt to legitimize his baseless claim that he only lost the popular vote in November because 3 to 5 million people voted illegally, it was only natural that Kobach would be picked to lead it.

As to the details of the committee, there isn't much else to know about it. Even the most mainstream political voices have seen straight through it as a shallow attempt by Trump, as the New York Times put it, "to commandeer the machinery of the federal government to justify his own falsehoods."

It will be staffed by Kobach, Vice President Mike Pence and a handful of other "experts," who will "study the registration and voting processes used in federal elections" and make recommendations to "enhance the American people's confidence" in the electoral process.

This includes, of course, the Republicans' favorite cover for their party's racist assault on voting rights: identifying "those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies and practices that undermine" election integrity, as well as "vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting."

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IN CASE there was any doubt about the real intent of such a commission, we should take a closer look at the guy who will be in charge.

Kris Kobach has been called the most racist politician in the country, and he is indeed preeminent in a number of ways.

He spent years as a lawyer for anti-immigrant racists, has spoken at white supremacist conferences and helped author a number of state laws of similar ideological character--the most notorious being Arizona's Senate Bill (SB) 1070, the "show me your papers" law, which passed in 2010 and is now largely blocked after lawsuits from civil rights groups.

As written, SB 1070 would allow police free rein to racially profile and detain anybody they suspect of being undocumented, without evidence or a warrant. It also places steep penalties on anybody who knowingly employs an undocumented worker and mandates that all employers in the state participate in the federal E-Verify program in order to render undocumented workers ineligible for work.

Kobach is the only secretary of state in the country with the power to prosecute people who are accused of violating the state's election laws, a power that Kansas Republicans granted him in 2015.

But Kobach's consummate achievement has been the proliferation of a program that has achieved a much wider impact, the crown jewel of mass voter purging schemes: Interstate Crosscheck.

Like Jeb Bush's purge of "felons" from the Florida voting rolls during the 2000 election, which mismatched names and wrongfully purged as many as 12,000 people--a disproportionate number of them African American--from voter registration lists, the Crosscheck program is racist by design and has so far nullified the registration of hundreds of thousands of voters in multiple states.

Crosscheck works by comparing voter registration lists from different states in order to find supposed "double voters" who are registered in more than one location. However, state officials regularly ignore key identifiers such as middle names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth, wrongfully purging people based on first and last name matches only.

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SO JUST how extensive is the GOP's conspiracy of fraudulent voters? Kobach and others lie to say that they just want to deal with "facts" and impartially investigate the extent of voter fraud.

But every investigation that has been made into the matter so far has shown that the fraudulent voting they complain about is virtually nonexistent.

Kobach himself has a pretty anemic track record when it comes to catching fraudulent voters. Since he was granted prosecutorial power as Kansas' secretary of state, he has convicted a total of nine people for illegally voting in the state. Of these, only one was a noncitizen, who was caught after they attempted to apply for U.S. citizenship and were found to already be on the voter rolls.

There were 1,817,920 people registered to vote in Kansas for the 2016 election, according to official state statistics--so Kobach's fraudsters, citizen or noncitizen, so far represent around 0.0004 percent of the state's potential voters.

At that rate, Kobach will catch all 3 to 5 million of Trump's so-called "illegal voters" in about 1 million years.

In North Carolina, an extensive audit of the 2016 election found that 508 ineligible votes were cast in the state, out of a total of 4,769,640. As the Charlotte Observer noted, "About 87 percent of those (441) were felons who voted. State law prohibits felons from voting until their sentence is fully served, including probation and parole. It is believed that many of the felons who voted did not realize they could not vote while on probation."

Additionally, "the probe found 41 non-citizens, from 28 countries, voted. All were here legally, but were not eligible to vote. The audit also found 24 cases of double-voting and two cases of voter impersonation (one by mail and one in person)."

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DESPITE THE infrequency of actual voter fraud, Republicans like Trump and Kobach will use any example they can dig up as an excuse to push through more racist laws, even when these laws have proven to be more effective at suppressing minority voters than at stopping any instances of actual fraud.

We need look no further than North Carolina's voter ID law for an example. After the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013, allowing Southern states to pass racist voting restrictions without federal oversight, the North Carolina Republican Party concocted a voter ID law that they claimed would protect the integrity of the state's elections.

The law was recently struck down after lawsuits from the state NAACP, when a panel of judges on the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law was intentionally designed to discriminate against African Americans.

The court's ruling noted that "the state has failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina," while ignoring "evidence of alleged cases of mail-in absentee voter fraud" perpetrated, not by African Americans, but "disproportionately" by whites.

And according to North Carolina's own audit, of all those 508 ineligible votes that were cast, only "one (1) would probably have been avoided with a voter ID law. One out of nearly 4.8 million," according to the court.

This is the racist face of the Republicans' "concern" over voter fraud.