Kris W. Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, oversees an office whose clerical and regulatory work costs the state’s taxpayers barely $5.5 million a year. But he has parlayed that modest post into a national platform for tough restrictions on voting rights and immigration, becoming both a celebrated voice within the Republican Party and a regular target of lawsuits by civil rights advocates. Now, as vice chairman of the new Advisory Commission on Election Integrity announced by the White House on Thursday (Vice President Mike Pence is the titular chairman), Mr. Kobach has a far bigger soapbox for his views on voter fraud — which Republicans, including President Trump, call a cancer on democracy. Others say it is a pretense for discouraging the poor, minorities and other typically Democratic-leaning voters from casting ballots. Academic studies regularly show — and most state election officials agree — that fraud is rare, and that the kind of fraud Republicans seek to address with voter ID laws is minuscule.
Mr. Kobach promised an impartial inquiry into election vulnerabilities during an interview on Friday, saying the commission would “go where the facts take us.” But in Kansas, the facts appear at best mixed, and critics say he is one of the most partisan and polarizing figures imaginable to preside over a fair inquiry on voter fraud.
Since taking office in 2011, he has persuaded the Kansas Legislature to enact some of the nation’s most rigorous voting restrictions and to give him special authority to enforce them. The result has been a campaign against supposedly unchecked voting fraud, particularly by immigrants.
Most fraud claims, however, have proved vaporous, and convictions are sparse — nine since 2015 and only one of them a foreigner — and placed a heavy burden on ordinary citizens. In striking down some of Kansas’ voting rules in 2016, a federal court said restrictive registration requirements had denied more than 18,000 Kansans their constitutional right to cast ballots.