The anti-Immigrant Roots of Contemporary Voter Suppression Laws: Case Study Kansas

Monica Varsanyi, Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY)

This paper examines the anti-immigrant roots of state-level “voter integrity” laws that have been proposed and passed across the United States in the last decade to address alleged voter fraud. Enabled by the Congressional expiration of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, these laws require photo identification or proof of citizenship to vote, restrict absentee ballots and early voting, and repeal same-day voter registration. Between 2006 and 2011, nearly every state considered such restrictive voter access legislation, and half of all states passed such laws. Critics argue, however, that actual instances of voter fraud are exceedingly rare, and that these new laws serve mainly to suppress the votes of African-American, poor, and elderly voters. This paper explores the historical, nativist roots of these contemporary voter suppression laws. I focus specifically on politics in Kansas and Arizona, which are central to understanding the emergence, diffusion, and interweaving of nativist and voter fraud discourses. Former Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach have been a prominent state-level and national proponents of the development and promotion of these laws in Arizona, Kansas, and across the United States. Employing a qualitative, process-tracing approach to analyze data from newspaper and state archives, I explore evolving public, media, and elite discourses surrounding the origins of these laws in Arizona, and the accompanying the passage and legal challenges to two high-profile “voter integrity” laws that Kobach championed in Kansas: the Secure and Fair Elections Act (SAFE Act), a 2011 law requiring residents to show a birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers to vote; and the Crosscheck Program, which checks voter records across states to identify people registered to vote in more than one state (and in which 30 states are now enrolled).

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 242. Immigration Federalism and Anti-Immigrant Politics in the States