In this Nov. 20, 2016, file photo, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, holds a stack of papers as he meets with then President-elect Donald Trump in Bedminster, N.J. Kobach who is vice chairman of President Donald Trump's commission on election fraud drafted a proposal for Trump to change federal voter registration laws. Carolyn Kaster AP
In this Nov. 20, 2016, file photo, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, holds a stack of papers as he meets with then President-elect Donald Trump in Bedminster, N.J. Kobach who is vice chairman of President Donald Trump's commission on election fraud drafted a proposal for Trump to change federal voter registration laws. Carolyn Kaster AP

Government & Politics

Unsealed documents show Kobach urged Trump to change federal voting law

By Bryan Lowry And and Hunter Woodall

hwoodall@kcstar.com

October 05, 2017 07:05 PM

UPDATED October 06, 2017 10:11 AM

TOPEKA

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach urged President Donald Trump to pursue changes to federal voting law to promote proof-of-citizenship requirements, according to documents unsealed Thursday by a federal judge.

Kobach, a candidate for Kansas governor and the vice chair of Trump’s voting commission, was photographed carrying a strategic plan for the Department of Homeland Security into a meeting with Trump in November.

The American Civil Liberties Union sought the documents as part of an ongoing lawsuit challenging a Kansas law that requires voters to provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, when they register.

Kobach was ordered to turn over the documents to the ACLU earlier this year, but the documents had been sealed until Judge Julie Robinson opened them Thursday.

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The documents have been heavily redacted, but one of the bullet points in Kobach’s presentation to Trump was a suggestion to draft an amendment to the National Voter Registration Act to “promote proof-of-citizenship requirements.”

Kobach contends that the proof-of-citizenship policy prevents non-citizens from voting, but critics say it actually ends up disenfranchising rightful voters as well.

The judge also unsealed a draft amendment that Kobach had circulated within his office that would have added a line to the federal voter law that said states could request any information from voters they deem necessary.

Trump appointed Kobach as vice chair of the voting commission in May. The commission faced backlash from states a month later when Kobach requested personal information on every voter registered in the U.S.

Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said the documents undercut Kobach’s claims that the presidential voting commission does not have predetermined policy goals.

The ACLU argued last year that the National Voter Registration Act would need to be rewritten to give Kobach the authority to enforce the proof-of-citizenship law. Kobach was blocked from fully enforcing the law last year after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the ACLU.

A day after Trump won the presidency, Kobach emailed Trump’s transition team about a plan to change the National Voter Registration Act, Ho said. Kobach presented the idea to Trump in person a few weeks later.

“When you connect all the dots, it tells you what the commission is all about,” Ho said in a phone call, noting that Kobach furiously fought to keep the documents private and was even fined $1,000 by the court earlier this year for misrepresenting their contents.

“The entire time he’s been saying, ‘We don’t have any predetermined policy outcomes.’ … This has been the end game since Day 1,” Ho said.

Kobach responded to Ho’s criticism in an email Friday morning and continued to maintain that the commission’s work and his presentation to Trump are unrelated.

“The document was written long before the commission existed and reflects the opinion of only one member--which is that the federal government should not stand in the way of a state that wants to stop noncitizens from voting,” Kobach said.

Micah Kubic, the executive director of the Kansas chapter of the ACLU, said in an email that the documents "reveal that Sec. Kobach aims to replicate these voter suppression tactics--which have already disenfranchised thousands of Kansas citizens--on a national scale."

Rep. Brett Parker, an Overland Park Democrat, was critical of Kobach after hearing about the documents. 

“For someone who claims to be conservative, Secretary Kobach seems to love burdening us all with bureaucracy and red tape just to exercise our most basic right as Americans and then leave us with the bill for the endless court battles,” Parker said. “I mean, I think the short version of this is that he’s trying to do to the country what he’s done to Kansas, and that should scare every citizen.”

The ACLU readies for a fight over stricter voting laws

The American Civil Liberties Union kicked off “Let People Vote” on Sunday at the Lied Center in Lawrence. The effort is aimed at opposing stricter voting regulations, which backers say will prevent voter fraud but which critics say is unnecessary and ultimately meant to suppress otherwise legal voting.

Allison Long and Hunter Woodall The Kansas City Star

Rep. Keith Esau, an Olathe Republican who is running for secretary of state, was warmer to the idea.

“I think that the states should be able to decide how to implement that,” he said. “But I think it’s a good idea with the number of issues that we’ve had with immigrants to make sure that people, in the way that we make it easy to get drivers licenses even if somebody’s not a citizen in the state, that there’s some way to make sure that when they register to vote that they are citizens of the U.S. or actually of the state that they’re registering in.” 

Read Kobach’s proposed draft amendment and a redacted version of his presentation to Trump.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3