The Trump administration’s voter fraud commission is poised to attack a federal voting rights law that prevents states from capriciously disenfranchising citizens.
That law, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as “motor voter,” has long been a bête noire of conservatives. The NVRA creates national voter registration requirements and procedures that states may not abrogate or abridge, barring them from arbitrarily purging voters from the rolls. Federal courts have also interpreted the statute to prevent states from imposing a proof of citizenship on new voters. When Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach attempted to implement such a requirement in 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union successfully sued to block him, citing the NVRA. At Kobach’s meeting with Donald Trump in November, he was photographed holding a memo indicating his desire to amend the law.
The ACLU swiftly demanded access to this memo, alleging it was relevant to the ongoing litigation regarding Kansas’ proof of citizenship law. Kobach refused, but a court compelled him to cough up the document. A federal judge also fined him $1,000 for making “patently misleading representations” about the memo and engaging in “deceptive conduct.” Before turning over the document, Kobach marked it “confidential,” barring the ACLU from furnishing it to the public. However, as part of discovery, Kobach did release an email sent to the Trump transition team on Nov. 9—the day after Election Day—setting the NVRA in his crosshairs. Kobach wrote:
[W]e will … be putting together information on legislation drafts for submission to Congress early in the administration. I have some already started regarding amendments to the NVRA to make clear that proof of citizenship requirements are permitted (based on my ongoing litigation with the ACLU over this).
Several months later, Trump appointed Kobach to lead what the president has characterized as his “VOTER FRAUD PANEL.”
Kobach’s email seems to confirm speculation about the true intent of the voter fraud commission, and the reason why he has requested an immense amount of voter data from all 50 states. Kobach will collect a vast amount of incomplete voter data from the states and use shoddy analysis to claim he has discovered thousands of fraudulent votes. He will then insist that Congress must address the problem by gutting the NVRA to let states demand proof of citizenship from voters, and to authorize mass purges of state voter rolls. (The Justice Department is already laying the groundwork for these voter purges.)
Indeed, Kobach has already executed a test run of this plan. As Kansas secretary of state, he promoted the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, known as Crosscheck, which can purportedly detect double-voting by comparing voter databases from multiple states. Crosscheck creates thousands of false positives—about 200 for every one true instance of double-voting, according to one study. Yet Kobach has championed Crosscheck as a vital tool to thwart voter fraud—which he has claimed, falsely, to be a rampant problem in the United States.
Trump’s voter fraud commission is shaping up to be, as the ACLU’s Dale Ho described it, “Crosscheck on steroids.” The only question that remains is whether congressional Republicans will pretend to believe Kobach’s “patently misleading representations,” to borrow a court’s term. If they do, the NVRA—one of the most critical voting rights laws ever passed in the United States—may be in grave peril.