Kris Kobach finally found a non-citizen voter.
On the hunt since the “SAFE” Act passed in 2011, Kobach recently secured a guilty plea from Victor David Garcia Bebek, a Peruvian national who voted in three different elections, in Sedgwick County. This brings Kobach’s total number of prosecutions up to eight—Bebek, plus seven people each caught voting in two different states. Kobach is the only Secretary of State in America with the power to prosecute voter fraud, as opposed to referring it to federal or other state authorities.
Unfortunately, there are a few difficulties.
First, Bebek recently became an American citizen. While millions of Americans are too apathetic to vote, Bebek was so eager to participate that he had already registered and voted before completing the naturalization process. For this, he gets three years of probation and a $5000 fine. Welcome to America, Mr. Bebek!
Bebek’s case may be typical. For example, political scientist Jesse Richman is often mentioned by President Trump and by Kobach, because Richman says he found cases of non-citizen voting. Yet Richman recently issued a statement asking President Trump, Secretary Kobach, and other politicians to stop citing his research. Richman never claimed that undocumented immigrants are the ones casting ballots, and he does not want his name associated with it.
The problems only get worse from there. Over 30,000 “suspense voters” have had their registrations canceled by Kobach under the SAFE Act, while he has only found these eight fraud cases: less than 0.003% the voters purged from the rolls. Furthermore, all eight cases could have been identified before the SAFE Act
Next comes my own research. My county-by-county analysis indicates that voters were more likely to shift toward Trump in states which did not have these new voting laws. That’s right: the new voting laws may have actually hurt Trump. Not only that, but in some states, there is evidence of a backlash—Democrats capitalize on the anger of those who feel targeted, and campaign on themes like, “don’t let them take your vote away!”
In several states, the voter turnout and Hillary Clinton’s performance were actually higher where restrictive laws were in place. This is true even when accounting for other factors like the state of the local economy, the percentage of white residents, and urban/rural differences.
The results make sense, since reporters for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution discovered that Trump’s vote totals surged in rural counties with a lot of new and infrequent voters. Having gotten out of the habit of voting, or having never been in that habit in the first place, these voters are likely to be the most befuddled by the new laws. After all, new requirements make voting harder than they had remembered. Without the new laws, Trump may have won several states by larger margins, including Kansas.
Kobach talks a lot about undocumented immigrant voters, but where are they? What he has actually accomplished is to shrink voting rolls, prosecute a new American citizen for voting, and find hardly any voter fraud. Now we can add holding down Donald Trump’s vote totals to these achievements. Things just are not going well for Kobach and the SAFE Act.
Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University.