Politics & Government

A background check before voting? Kobach-led commission will consider idea

Vice President Mike Pence (left) accompanied by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, spoke during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in July.
Vice President Mike Pence (left) accompanied by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, spoke during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in July. AP

President Donald Trump’s controversial voting commission will weigh a proposal Tuesday about requiring a background check before a person can register to vote – similar to buying a gun.

John Lott, the president of the Pennsylvania-based Crime Prevention Research Center, will present the concept when the commission holds its second meeting of the year in New Hampshire.

Lott’s PowerPoint, which was posted on the White House’s website in advance of the meeting, includes a slide titled “How to check if the right people are voting.”

He notes that Republicans worry that ineligible people are voting, while Democrats contend “that Republicans are just imagining things.” Lott proposes applying the federal background check system for gun purchases, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, to voter registrations.

Lott said in a phone call that the background check system, which was established under President Bill Clinton, checks whether a person is a non-citizen and whether they have a felony conviction among other pieces of information to determine their eligibility to own a gun.

He said that these same checks could be made to determine a person’s eligibility to vote because there are “similar rules for whether you can own a gun and whether you can vote.”

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who serves as vice chair of the commission, did not immediately comment on whether he supports the idea.

Kobach, a candidate for Kansas governor, has championed some of the strictest voting laws in the country during his tenure as secretary of state. He has also been an outspoken proponent of loosening gun regulations.

Lott, who last year published a book called “The War on Guns: Arming Yourself Against Gun Control Lies,” said that Democrats have praised using background checks for guns and questioned why they would oppose using the same system for voting when it’s already up and running.

“They say it does not impinge on people’s right to self-defense… It shouldn’t be any harm in their eyes to check whether people are eligible to vote,” he said.

“It just seems like if they believe what they’re saying it seems like a win-win.”

Dale Ho, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, said in an email that only four states permanently ban people from voting for felony convictions.

“For example, in Kansas, you can register to vote after finishing your sentence (including parole); but the rules on firearms are much more complicated, and have different waiting periods for different kinds of crimes,” Ho said.

“So it’s not obvious why this would be a helpful idea for voting at all — even if you leave aside questions about practicality and possible burden on voters. Seems more like an attempted (and nonsensical) ‘gotcha’ for liberals rather than a serious suggestion,” he said.

Lott said in a second phone call that he is aware that “most states don’t permanently disenfranchise someone because they have a felony record,” but he said that the background check still provides other information that is relevant to whether a person can vote.

Ho questioned Lott’s credentials to analyze elections and said in the email, “It speaks volumes that the Commission had to scrounge around for someone… to support their pre-baked (half-baked?) conclusions.” The ACLU and other critics of the commission contend that its purpose is to craft more restrictive voting laws and promote the highly disputed idea of widespread voting fraud.

The commission, which is tasked with studying voter fraud, faced controversy earlier this year because of an extensive data request Kobach made to every state in the union for personal information on voters, including partial Social Security numbers.

Some states have resisted the data request, while others, including Kansas, have been only able to provide some of the data Kobach requested under state laws.

Bryan Lowry: 816-234-4077, @BryanLowry3

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