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Editor's Brief

The Kobach Voting Panel is Dead, But the Push to Restrict Voting Lives On

January 5, 2018 11:04 a.m.

Voting rights advocates are warily celebrating the news that President Trump’s bogus voter fraud commission is folding. Their caution is largely because the panel’s leader, Kris Kobach, has said he plans to work with the Department of Homeland Security to continue the effort to root out fraud.

Kobach has for many years sought access to DHS data on non-citizens, so he can compare it to state voter rolls and identify non-citizens registered to vote. That’s even though DHS itself has warned that the data isn’t well suited to that purpose, and experts say it’s likely to produce numerous false positives, risking large-scale disenfranchisement of legitimate voters.

Tierney Sneed lays out, in fascinating detail, the myriad challenges Kobach will likely face in working with DHS — including the fact that the department doesn’t exactly sound like its chomping at the bit to collaborate.

But here’s the key thing to keep in mind: Whether Kobach succeeds in this project (and make no mistake, success means making it more difficult to vote) depends almost entirely on whether he can convince states to go along with him and purge their rolls.

In that sense, using DHS rather than the commission might give Kobach a bit less authority. But let’s face it: everyone already knew the commission, which had seven Republicans to four Democrats, was a sham. Working with DHS might also affect the types of data Kobach has access to. But remember, Kobach doesn’t need accurate data. He just needs a process he can point to that lets him say publicly that he’s generated a list of registered voters who aren’t eligible.

That isn’t to say Kobach will succeed. But whether or not he does will likely come down to the level of pressure that states face on the issue of whether to act on his findings by removing voters from their rolls. Outside of Kansas, where he’s the secretary of state, Kobach has no power to make state governments do anything. That means ground-level efforts to raise the profile of voting issues and create a political price for state officials who restrict access to the polls are more important than ever.

Late Update: I wanted to add another thought, too. Over the last year, plenty of states haven’t waited for a green light from the Kobach commission to restrict access to voting. New Hampshire, Iowa, Texas, Arkansas, and North Dakota all passed new laws in 2017 that make voting harder (New Hampshire might be about to pass another). That represented sort of a second wave of voter suppression, after a quieter period during the later Obama years. So in that sense, the commission was always a bit of a side-show. And there’s little reason to think the push for state-level suppression laws is going to wane.

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