Six years ago, Kris Kobach and I were on strikingly different warpaths. Kobach had just launched his campaign for Kansas secretary of state. I was earning my combat stripes and Afghan Campaign Medal in the desert valleys of Kandahar. There, I was fighting the Taliban, an enemy that – ironically – as a young man, Kris Kobach had advocated arming. An ambitious college kid, Kobach told his student newspaper, “The Afghan rebels’ cause gets the least amount of attention and support in this country.” Many of those rebels soon became the Taliban – and are still at war with America today after training and harboring the terrorists who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001, killing more than 3,000 and sparking the longest war in American history. But in 2009, my first mission in Afghanistan was straightforward, if not a simple task. We were there to foster the safe and free elections of the Afghan people, to give them a shot at enjoying the democracy that we treasure. Meanwhile, the mission Kobach took on back here in Kansas was neither straightforward nor simple: He was out to convince Kansans that voter fraud was common, rampant and widespread, despite the lack of any evidence suggesting it.
It was startling to return home to Kansas in 2012 and learn what our new secretary of state was up to. He wasn’t expanding access to democracy, or empowering people to vote, as we’d been fighting the Taliban to do in Afghanistan. Instead, he had embarked on a campaign of intimidation and suppression.
Unfortunately, this only accelerated this past summer, when Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law everything that Kobach asked for. Senate Bill 34 gave the Kansas secretary of state authority to prosecute voters. Kobach has pursued only three alleged cases of fraud to date – hardly the massive epidemic of fraud that he claimed was marring our elections. But in addition to his use of this prosecutorial authority, Secretary Kobach has begun purging over 37,000 Kansans from the books who have failed to obey his rules – Kansans who in fact should have every right to vote. But instead of working to expand the access of Kansans to their right to vote, Kobach is on the warpath to deny it to them.
According to recent news reports, many of these folks are active military personnel and veterans, and, when contacted, they had no idea they were being denied their right to vote – or what they needed to do to maintain that right. It’s not the first time Kobach has used his office in a way that undermines the vote of our service members. Just last fall, Kobach mailed out a letter to military members overseas, claiming their votes may not count due to pending lawsuits about Chad Taylor withdrawing from the U.S. Senate race. There was really no reason to do that mailing, except to try to diminish their likelihood of voting by making them feel like their votes wouldn’t count.