Social Justice and the Secretary of State

This is NOT going to become a political rant blog, I promise (Kory, I really promise). If that’s your schtick, check out this blog (if you see my kids wandering around dirty in the street, this is why…it’s like heroin for political nerds like me). But there’s one race already shaping up for 2010 that I just HAVE to say something about. So, please, indulge me.

In my work registering voters and doing election protection for Limited English Proficient and new citizen voters, I had numerous occasions on which to be quite proud of Kansas’ Secretary of State office. I met with current Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh on a few occasions, including once when he came to El Centro, Inc. because he wanted to see what we did with voter registration. I found him to be very accessible and his office to be highly professional. Even more importantly, from my perspective, he was consistently a supporter of fair election policies and practices, including expressing support for voter identification policies that allowed options besides photo ID. He strongly resisted allegations that voter fraud by undocumented immigrants and other ineligible voters was a problem in the state, and he rejected very harsh measures designed to address that supposed ‘problem’. While he is certainly not directly responsible for the activities of the county election offices, I worked with several of them around the state and found them, likewise, to be quite supportive of our efforts to encourage civic participation. One election official in western Kansas actually called me to let me know that she had received our voter registration forms in time and that the voters would be eligible for the primary (totally above and beyond). Once, when I brought more than 100 registrations into the KCK office only a day before the deadline, the woman working said, “God bless you. You must have worked so hard,” (rather than ‘now we have to enter all of these?’). We had representatives from election offices in western Kansas, Johnson County, and Wyandotte County come demonstrate the voting machines to our new citizen voters. When I would meet with colleagues around the country who were also doing voter work, I would feel almost smug about the comparatively smooth process we experienced.

Outside of elections, I worked with the Secretary of State’s office on lobbyist reporting and, on a few occasions, when I had a concern about unethical candidate activities. I truly always found them helpful, nonpartisan, and even quite pleasant. I’m sure that there are many political issues on which I would disagree with Secretary Thornburgh; I’ll get the chance to find out more when he launches his campaign for Governor in earnest. But, as Secretary of State, I believe that he did a very decent job at safeguarding the integrity of our elections, no small task in today’s highly polarized political environment.

And now I am very concerned. As you may or may not know, Kris Kobach has announced that he is running for Kansas Secretary of State. Even more disturbing to me than this announcement was the response of many when I told them: “Why would he want that job?” It is an unfortunate fact that many people, including many social work advocates, underestimate the importance of the Secretary of State. It is NOT just a stepping stone to the governorship. It is, in fact, the guardian of our democratic process, and you have to believe me that Kris Kobach is smart enough to know this too.

Actually, you don’t have to take my word for it. Below is a link to his guest editorial, where he talks about this supposed voter fraud, rails against the senatorial election in Minnesota, and claims that the Secretary of State election will have “unprecedented consequences”. Um, no kidding.

I can tell you from experience that it is hard enough to register U.S.-born citizens to vote; there is no clamoring among undocumented people to put their name on a voter registration roll where they will face lifelong banishment from the U.S. and a felony conviction if discovered. I have been cursed at and had things thrown at me from trying to convince people that voting is their responsibility as citizens. Yes, Kris, we have a real problem with voting in this country, but it’s not the problem you’re so intent on ‘fixing’.

Please, pay attention to the 2010 Secretary of State’s race. Don’t believe the allegations of widespread voter fraud; President Bush’s own Department of Justice investigators could find only a couple of cases in the whole country, in the previous eight years, of non-citizens registering to vote. And they were looking hard. Pay attention and, of course, vote!

Kobach for Secretary of State

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