Last week’s meeting of the Sedgwick County Republican Party featured a forum with the three candidates seeking the Republican party nomination for Kansas Secretary of State. The candidates and links to their campaign websites are J.R. Claeys, Elizabeth “Libby” Ensley, and Kris Kobach.
During the forum, the different attitudes of the candidates towards the extent of voter fraud in Kansas and the measures that should be taken to combat it — such as photo ID and proof of citizenship — became apparent.
In his opening remarks, Kobach mentioned his role in helping write the recently-past Arizona immigration law. He said during the past 10 years, at both the United States Department of Justice and privately, he’s worked to help cities and states enforce the law. His goal for the next four years, should he be elected Secretary of State, would be to help Kansas restore the rule of law in its elections.
He said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has a “whole division designed for immigrants’ rights.” He said that the ACLU will be the “first to run into the courtroom if we try to pass a photo ID law in Kansas.” He also mentioned the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as another group involved in the immigration fight, and it has sued Arizona over its law.
(A photo ID law would require voters to identify themselves with a photo ID, such as a drivers license, when they vote.)
Kobach said that both of these organizations are willing to sell out the rule of law in order to gain political power. Democrats, he said, view illegal aliens as a source of votes, and that is why Democrats always oppose photo ID laws. “In my definition, that is the highest form of corruption. That’s corruption, not for money, but for power.”
Kobach said that he is in favor of a photo ID law. The problem, he said, is making a law stick, as these laws are challenged by the ACLU wherever they are passed. As a constitutional law professor, he believes he can write a bill that will survive a court challenge. He said he’ll defend the law, “because nothing makes my day like a lawsuit against the ACLU.”
Kansas must also prosecute voter fraud, he said. He mentioned a report from the secretary of state’s office where 11 counties in Kansas where voter fraud was reported, but there were no state prosecutions. He said the problem is that when prosecutions are forwarded to the local county attorney, prosecutions do not result because of lack of resources or wrong incentives, and in some cases, lack of political will. He proposes parallel jurisdiction, where either the local county attorney or the Secretary of State could proceed with prosecution.
Claeys, in his opening remarks, said he had worked for the Republican National committee as a fundraiser, as communications director for the National Small Business Association, and CEO of the National Association of Government Contractors. He also served as an election observer in Bolivia and El Salvador. These countries recently implemented voter security measures.
Claeys said that photo ID, besides improving the security of voting, actually streamlines the voting process and reduces the training needed for both voters and election workers.
He said there are 600 statutory duties for the Secretary of State, many having to do with small business. “It is the filing center for the state,” and it is important that businesses be served efficiently and well by that office. Increasing fees and regulations, he added, acts as a tax on business, and he said he will work to keep fees and costs low.
Ensley’s opening remarks told of the importance of the Secretary of State, noting that “every single business in the state of Kansas touches the Secretary of State’s office.” She said she had worked in the Secretary of State’s office for 11 years, and then for 18 years as the Shawnee County Election Commissioner. Because of that, she said she has the endorsement of the last three Kansas Secretaries of State.
She said she has been watchful for election fraud during her years as election commissioner, and has provided the evidence that has resulted in the conviction of 12 election criminals.
She said an important issue to her is military voting, saying that these voters do not have the same rights as local voters. They are not allowed to vote for precinct committee officials or for local ballot questions, for example. She said this needs to be changed.
Questioning from the audience included a question whether the candidates would pledge to support whoever wins the August primary election. All answered yes.
Another question mentioned nursing homes, where it was alleged by the questioner that voting fraud is taking place. Kobach said that the “stories are legion” about what happens in nursing homes. He said this type of voter fraud is difficult to detect. But once someone is prosecuted, this will discourage others from contemplating this type of voter fraud.
Ensley suggested that any suspected voter fraud be reported to local officials. She mentioned a recent Kansas law that allows election officials to work with nursing homes to delver ballots directly to voters, and assist them with voting if requested.
Claeys agreed that prosecutions would serve as a deterrent to others.
One questioner noted that several recent holders of the Secretary of State’s office have run for, or aspired to run for, Kansas governor. Do you have political ambitions beyond Secretary of State? Claeys and Ensley answered no. Kobach answered that the future is difficult to predict, but that he probably would not occupy that office for 16 years, as Ron Thornburgh would have if he served out his last term.
In my question, I asked about the claim of the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman, based on evidence from then-Secretary of State Thornburgh, that voter fraud in Kansas is not a significant problem.
Kobach said that there is voter fraud, it is a problem, and he doesn’t know why Holman doesn’t believe it is a problem.
Ensley said that Kobach is referring to alleged voter fraud. She said she’s done statistical research on aliens registering to vote. She identified the six counties in Kansas that are required to do bilingual ballots and asked these county clerks — these are the election officials in these counties — about the situation in their county. She said that each clerk said that they watch out for illegal registrations and voting, but that it is not a significant problem in their counties.
She said she compared the proportion of the population that is registered to vote statewide with the same figure in these six counties. If a large number of ineligible registrations was a problem, these counties should have a higher than average number. She found that these counties had a lower proportion of registered voters than the stateside average, which lead her to believe that registration and voting by aliens is not a problem.
She said that having to prove citizenship in order to vote would lead to lower voter turnout by eligible voters, and she is not in favor of requirements to prove citizenship. Displaying her tattered birth certificate, she described how it would be difficult for many citizens to obtain their birth certificate in order to prove they are citizens and eligible to vote. Her contention that requirements to prove citizenship creates more barriers to Americans than it prevents aliens from registering to vote was greeted with disapproval from the audience.
Claeys mentioned the Arizona voter law — which he said he favors — which requires proof of citizenship, with several ways to provide proof. He added that even a small amount of voter fraud is important. “Anytime someone votes who’s not supposed to be, they’re taking your vote away.”
Kobach added that courts have not agreed that requirements to produce citizenship documents such as birth certificates are too much of a burden. He added that these requirements apply to only newly-registered voters, not currently registered voters. He also produced several reasons as to why Ensley’s survey of voter registration rates in counties may not be valid.
Later questioning brought out a distinction between “voter ID” and “photo ID.” Voter ID can take many forms, such as a utility bill showing a voter’s name and address. Kobach and Claeys are in favor of requiring a state-issued photo ID, while Ensley said voter ID is sufficient.
Some in the audience asked questions that showed they believed a photo ID was more secure than other forms of ID, but Ensley pointed to easy availability of fake IDs, both photo and other.
Eagle editorialist Holman’s op-ed from last May contained this statement: “Fraudulent voting, particularly by an illegal immigrant, makes no sense, because there is little to nothing to gain by the individual voter — while the potential punishment is severe.” (“Beware of claims of voter fraud,” May 28, 2009 Wichita Eagle)
This curious claim by Holman — that there is little to gain by individuals when they vote– might make anyone wonder why they should make an effort to vote.