The top election official in Kansas asserted without evidence that millions of noncitizens voted in the presidential election moments after he certified the state’s election results Wednesday.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who made his first public appearance since meeting with President-elect Donald Trump last week, backed Trump’s claims that he would have won the popular vote if illegal votes were discounted.
“I think the president-elect is absolutely correct when he says the number of illegal votes cast exceeds the popular vote margin between him and Hillary Clinton at this point,” Kobach said immediately after he and other Kansas officials certified the state’s election results.
Kobach pointed to a widely disputed study released by two Old Dominion University political scientists in 2014, which has been rebutted repeatedly by other election scholars.
The study analyzed data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study and found that self-reported noncitizens voted at a rate of 11.3 percent. The Old Dominion analysts actually lowered the estimate for the total voting rate by noncitizens to 6.4 percent, but Kobach used the 11.3 percent figure instead.
“If we apply that number to the current presidential election…you’d have 3.2 million aliens voted in the presidential election and that far exceeds the current popular vote margin between President-elect Trump and Secretary Clinton,” Kobach said.
Kobach said he had no tangible evidence to support that statement.
“This is the problem with aliens voting and registering. There’s no way you can look at the voter rolls and say this one’s an alien, this one’s a citizen,” Kobach said. “Once a person gets on a voter roll, you don’t have any way of easily identifying them as aliens so you have to rely on post-election studies.”
The Cooperative Congressional Election Study, the source of the raw data for the study, has disputed the Old Dominion analysts’ conclusions, calling their study biased and saying in 2014 “that the likely percent of non-citizen voters in recent US elections is 0.”
Kobach has repeatedly cited the study in court documents, according to Mark Johnson, a Kansas City-based attorney who has represented suspended voters in multiple lawsuits against Kobach.
The study is based on responses to an online survey. Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, said the data should be viewed with skepticism.
“He’s taking that at face value,” Miller said. “Whereas, we know that people often give trash responses in surveys all the time.”
Kobach also said he had no way to prove that the majority of noncitizens would have voted for Clinton rather than Trump, but said he could make that inference based on the candidate’s policies.
“You’re right. Can you necessarily conclude that all of them voted for Hillary Clinton? No. But you can probably conclude that a very high percentage voted for Hillary Clinton given the diametric opposite positions of the candidates on the immigration issue,” Kobach said. “So let’s assume 85 percent voted for Clinton.”
State Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, a frequent critic of Kobach, scoffed at this extrapolation.
“Does it concern you that the chief election officer of Kansas lives in another universe?” Ward said. “I mean, (he) just makes things up and has no verification or backup, but just continues to say them, thinking that if I say them over and over again they must be true.”
Kobach has championed a Kansas law that requires voters to provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, in order to register to vote. That law has faced numerous legal challenges.
Dale Ho, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, said in an e-mail that the study Kobach is citing has been debunked. He noted that even one of its authors has said that it’s not plausible that illegal votes would have tipped the popular vote in Clinton’s favor.
“Kris Kobach’s assertions about large numbers of noncitizens voting are patently false, and have been rejected repeatedly by federal courts,” said Ho, who represented suspended voters in a case against Kansas’ proof of citizenship law.
Ho pointed to the recent ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which blocked Kobach from requiring proof of citizenship from voters who register at the DMV. Judge Jerome Holmes, an appointee of President George W. Bush, called Kobach’s argument about thousands of noncitizens potentially on Kansas voter rolls “pure speculation” in his opinion for the court.
A photograph of Kobach showed that when he met with Trump earlier in November he brought a plan for the Department of Homeland Security that included a reference to voter rolls.
Kobach, who advised Trump on immigration throughout the campaign, would not say Wednesday whether he was advising the president-elect to pursue a nationwide proof of citizenship requirement.
Johnson questioned Kobach’s decision to certify the election results if he believes that noncitizens at such a high rate. Kobach did not raise it as a concern to Gov. Sam Brownback before they officially certified the results.
“If the secretary seriously believed that there was voter fraud in Kansas, why did he certify the election results?” Johnson said.
Johson noted that since Kobach became the only secretary of state in the nation with the power to prosecute voter fraud last year he has not brought any cases against noncitizens for illegally voting, including for elections that predate the proof of citizenship law.
“He can’t find them and, believe me, I’ll bet you he’s been looking for them,” Johnson said.
Kobach’s office said in an e-mail that if it “obtains specific evidence that a specific individual who is not a U.S. citizen voted, and that crime occurred prior to the running of the statute of limitations, then the Kansas Secretary of State will pursue criminal charges where sufficient evidence can be presented to the relevant court.”
Trump began making the claims about illegal votes after Green Party candidate Jill Stein began an effort to hold recounts in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, three states that tipped the election in Trump’s favor after he won them by a combined 114,000 votes.
Clinton has a lead in the national popular vote by more than 2 million votes.
Trump’s spokesman, Jason Miller, pointed to the recount efforts earlier this week when asked about the president-elect’s unsubstantiated claims regarding illegal voting.
“I really do think that it’s been ridiculous that so much oxygen has been given to a recall effort with no chance of election results changing,” Miller told reporters Monday. “The election results have been decided. It’s also important that so much time and attention is going to be given to recount efforts.”
Clay Barker, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, stopped short of supporting Kobach’s claims of noncitizen voting Wednesday, saying, “I hear a lot of claims. I’m not sure what he’s basing it on.”
Kobach has repeatedly pointed to Sedgwick County to support his claim of widespread voter fraud and did again Wednesday.
Documents from Kobach’s office show that 11 noncitizens became registered between 2003 and 2010. However, only three of them ever cast a ballot. Another 14 tried to register since 2013, but were blocked from doing so because of the proof of citizenship requirement.
Judges at both the state and federal level have called this insufficient evidence to support the need for Kobach’s voting restrictions.
“Even when weighed against the 25 Sedgwick County individuals identified by the Defendant who attempted to register to vote over a period of 13 years, the denial of more than 18,000 individuals’ right to vote far eclipses the Defendant’s demonstrated — and undeniable — interest in a secure election,” wrote Shawnee County Judge Larry Hendricks earlier this month when he ruled that Kobach lacked the authority to set up a tiered voting system.
Contributing: Hunter Woodall of the Kansas City Star and Anita Kumar of the McClatchy Washington Bureau