Kansas has once again taken center stage in the fight over voting rights in America.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Sunday night made a point of calling out Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has championed stricter requirements for voters and alleged widespread election fraud that he’s been unable to prove.
The criticism of Kobach came as the ACLU kicked off a 50-state “Let People Vote” campaign at the Lied Center in Lawrence, roughly a half hour from Kobach’s office in Topeka.
"This is going to be difficult, this is complex," said Faiz Shakir, the ACLU's National Political Director. "Because given the dysfunction in Congress, we are not going to pass anything through there to expand voting rights. It would be ideal if we could. But it's not going to happen.
“So the only way that we can fight to expand voting rights in America is to go state by state by state.”
A vocal crowd booed Kobach, whose name was mentioned frequently during the event as speakers talked about his policies on elections, immigration and national voter fraud work.
Under Kobach, Kansas has put into law some of the most restrictive rules on the right to vote that exist anywhere in the country, said Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas.
“This event is an important way of kicking off the national movement to defend voting rights in a place where it has been most under attack for the last six years,” Kubic said.
Kobach, a Republican candidate for governor in 2018, has battled the ACLU over voting requirements but has continued to champion a Kansas law that has been challenged in court.
That law set up requirements that voters must show a photo ID at the polls and must provide proof of citizenship when they register.
The ACLU is challenging the law, and Kobach was blocked in court from fully enforcing the law during the 2016 election cycle.
Kobach said he and the ACLU “are frequent adversaries in court.”
“We find ourselves on the opposite ends of a lot of litigation,” Kobach said. “I think it’s fair to say that the ACLU and I have fundamentally different world views.”
After the Lawrence event was announced, Kobach said in a statement the ACLU’s “campaign should be entitled ‘Let People Vote Without Showing Photo ID.’ ”
He has continued to strongly defend the Kansas voting law, including the proof of citizenship requirement, during his tenure as secretary of state.
“It’s not surprising because the ACLU has been opposed to photo ID laws and to proof of citizenship laws,” Kobach said in a recent interview. “... They’ve chosen to go where the elections are more secure.”
The ACLU of Kansas also organized the Kansas Coalition for Citizen Participation, which launched as part of the event.
The coalition’s platform calls for repealing Kobach’s election policies, expanding early voting, enacting election day registration, allowing for permanent advance voting and withdrawing from the crosscheck program, a data-sharing system overseen by Kansas and used by it and other states to try to identify duplicate voters.
Mini Kaur, 59, who lives in Lawrence and attended Sunday’s event, said she’s become very concerned about voting rights in America.
“America was a shining example of democracy where one vote, one vote mattered,” she said. “Every vote mattered and it seemed to me that that’s kind of slipping away from us now.”
Kaur said she was “really troubled” when asked about Kobach and his voting policies.
“I have not seen any indication, or at least no facts have been presented to say that what Mr. Kobach thinks he’s fighting against actually exists,” she said. “And in the absence of those facts, kind of conjuring up an issue where there isn’t an issue. I’m troubled by that.”
Other goals mentioned during the ACLU’s national event included voter restoration and redistricting reform.
During the live-streamed event, Shakir reflected on the first months of Donald Trump’s presidency and said the ACLU would continue to fight.
Kobach also has been a vocal supporter of Trump. When Trump alleged widespread voter fraud after the 2016 election, in which he won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote, Kobach backed Trump’s claim.
Kobach was later appointed vice chairman of Trump’s voter fraud commission, where he has become an even higher-profile figure nationwide. Kobach alleged in a Breitbart column this month that a “pivotal, close election was likely changed through voter fraud,” in reference to New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race last year.
Kobach’s claim was widely criticized and challenged by media outlets and Democratic members of the Trump commission.
“Now he has a national platform through his role on the presidential commission where he’s going to try to do to the rest of the country what he’s already done to Kansas, which is decrease citizen participation through barrier after barrier after barrier,” Kubic said after talking about the importance of Sunday night’s gathering.
After hearing the changes the ACLU’s Kansas coalition is calling for in the state, Kobach said the moves weren’t realistic.
“I don’t think they’re likely to succeed in any of them,” Kobach said.