- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Outside of Kansas, Kris Kobach is best known as an expert on immigration issues. He’s the author of Arizona’s anti-illegal-immigration law, a longtime counsel to the Immigration Law Reform Institute and a hero within the border-security movement.

Inside Kansas, he wears another hat entirely. He’s the newly elected secretary of state, having ousted Democratic incumbent Chris Biggs by a margin of 59 percent to 37 percent.

Why would someone who’s devoted his career to fighting illegal immigration want to become chief vote-counter for the state of Kansas? Suffice it to say that Mr. Kobach devoted his campaign to one issue, and that issue was voter fraud - and it too has an immigration angle.

The specter of illegal immigrants casting votes in U.S. elections has long frustrated Republicans, and Mr. Kobach is now poised to do something about it. Even before he’s sworn in, he’s already hard at work drafting voter-fraud legislation that he says will be most the comprehensive in the nation.

“This will be head and shoulders above anything any state has ever done to secure the voting process,” he said. “My hope is to create a model with regard to stopping voter fraud that can be used in other states, like we did in Arizona” with immigration.

His election comes at a professional cost. He likely will lose his tenured seat at the University of Missouri at Kansas City law school in order to take the secretary of state’s job, given that “a leave of absence usually doesn’t last four years,” he said.

Even so, Mr. Kobach, 44, said it wouldn’t have been enough to draft the Kansas voter-fraud bill as an outside consultant, as was the case when he wrote Senate Bill 1070, the Arizona immigration bill.

“For election laws in Kansas and most states, if the secretary isn’t pushing for major reform to happen, then it isn’t going to happen. It takes more than a few legislators,” Mr. Kobach said. “You really have to have a secretary of state pushing for it, especially with legislation this groundbreaking.”

Kansas lawmakers attempted to enact a voter-fraud bill in 2008, but it was vetoed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat. In November, however, Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican, was elected governor on a platform that included combating voter fraud.

Mr. Kobach’s plan is threefold. He wants to require photo identification at the time of voting, to make proof of citizenship a requirement at the time of voter registration, and to streamline the enforcement process to make it more efficient, such as by allowing states and not just counties to prosecute voter-fraud cases.

Other states have implemented some of those provisions, but “no state has done all three,” said Mr. Kobach.

He plans to have his bill ready to be pre-filed by Jan. 1, before the Legislature convenes Jan. 10. Both houses of the Legislature are controlled by Republicans, and Mr. Kobach said he’s “very optimistic the legislation will pass.”

Still, the proposal’s success would have to come over the opposition of the Kansas Voter Coalition, a newly formed group of liberal organizations aimed at capsizing Mr. Kobach’s movement. The coalition’s members say the photo-identification requirement will result in disenfranchising voters, particularly the elderly, the disabled, minorities and the poor.

Eleven percent of registered voters nationwide have no photo identification, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. In Kansas, that figure is probably higher because many older, rural voters were born at home and don’t always have birth certificates, which are necessary for many forms of photo I.D., said Ernestine Krehbiel, president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas.

“The unintended consequences of this are going to cause hardship and decreased voter turnout,” Ms. Krehbiel said.

Thomas Witt, president of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said he also worried that transgendered people could be turned away at the polls because their identification might not reflect their gender.

“Birth certificates do not reflect their gender,” Mr. Witt said. “I’ve already heard from transgendered people having a hard time voting because they haven’t changed all their documents. Right there, you’re having people being disenfranchised.”

During the campaign, Mr. Kobach’s foes asked whether a voter-fraud law was necessary, given that the state has had only six convictions since 2002 and some of those cases involved people voting in Kansas and then another state, a situation Mr. Kobach’s proposal wouldn’t cover.

Cracked Ms. Krehbiel, “As one of our coalition members said, you have a better chance of being bitten by a great white shark than finding a voter-fraud case in Kansas.”

Mr. Kobach countered that Kansas voters must be concerned about the issue, given that they elected him overwhelmingly.

“I won by a landslide, and I clearly made stopping voter fraud my No. 1 issue,” Mr. Kobach said. “I feel like I have a mandate, and I hope legislators will also see that.”

On the other hand, Ms. Krehbiel said, his election could be attributed to other factors.

“He’s very young, attractive and personable. He speaks very well,” said Ms. Krehbiel. “While he claims this mandate is a result of his platform, I don’t think that’s why he won.”

Mr. Kobach appears to have the law on his side. Indiana’s voter-fraud law, which requires voters to show unexpired, government-issued photo I.D. at the polls, was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008 and again by the Indiana Supreme Court in June.

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