Where has Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach been these past few months?
Apparently in Kansas, mostly.
On Tuesday, a voting-rights group demanded that Kobach step down, saying he had been spending too much time out of state politicking for immigration restrictions and voter identification laws.
The group, KanVote, released a list of 17 television and live appearances by Kobach related to immigration and voter ID, including six cases where he went out of state.
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Kobach went through the list with the Eagle in detail. By his account:
• He took two vacation days to argue in favor of immigration laws in Pennsylvania and Louisiana.
• All of his television and radio appearances were either done via satellite at a studio in Kansas City on his own time or at the Republican National Convention, which he attended along with many of the state’s other elected officials.
• Three of the instances cited by KanVote took place in Topeka and were part of fulfilling his official duties as a member of the State Objection Board, which rules on residency questions and eligibility for the Kansas ballot. The case at issue was on the discredited “birther” claim that President Obama was actually born in Kenya and ineligible to run for president.
• Two cases raised by KanVote involved court proceedings or announcements in Texas and Mississippi that Kobach said he did not actually attend.
• What KanVote characterized as a “tour to promote voter ID” in Missouri was actually just a campaign breakfast in Kansas City, which Kobach said he attended and then went to work.
• One out-of-state trip Kobach took was to testify on immigration law at a field hearing of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Birmingham, Ala. Kobach testified on a Friday and stayed through Saturday to talk to a conservative political group.
KanVote’s complaints come on the heels of an election in Sedgwick County that was plagued with delays in counting the vote. Results posted on the county website showed results to be final when they were not.
Many of the same problems surfaced during the lower-turnout primary election in August.
“When we’ve got elections like what we saw during the primaries happening again during the general (election), we’ve got to hold our officials accountable,” said Louis Goseland, a leader of KanVote and director of organizing at Sunflower Community Action.
But KanVote charged that in the critical three months between the elections, when Kobach should have been working with the county to correct the problems, he was promoting voter ID and representing local and state governments that had adopted laws that Kobach wrote to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
The group has filed a Kansas Open Records Act request for Kobach’s recent appointments and travel. But the group did its own research in the interim, Goseland said.
“We’ve looked up documented cases of Kris Kobach carrying on a political agenda that goes beyond his obligations to Kansas voters,” Goseland said. “We documented six occasions during that three-month period where he was verifiably out of the state of Kansas, most often serving other states and municipalities in litigation related to immigration, something that’s completely irrelevant to his job as Kansas secretary of state. In fact the closest thing he did to his job during his travels was to promote voter ID in Missouri.”
Kobach said KanVote is attacking him because its members disagree with his stance on immigration and voter ID.
“What I do in my spare time ... doesn’t in any way detract from my performance as secretary of state,” he said. “It’s idiotic for them to argue that if I spend a vacation day litigating instead of playing golf, that somehow has any relationship to the reporting issues in Sedgwick County.”
Goseland said KanVote is not only objecting to actual time that Kobach spent out of the office, but also the research, preparation and mental effort that have to go into being a national litigator and spokesman for immigration restrictions and voter ID.
“Our elections are the way they are and our leadership is the way it is,” Goseland said. “I think that has a lot to do with our secretary of state being sidetracked.”
KanVote was formed to monitor elections and advocate for voters after the Legislature approved voter-identification requirements at Kobach’s urging.
Voters were required to produce government-issued photo ID at the polls this year. Next year, prospective voters will have to supply a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship to register to vote.