Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) announced Tuesday that he is starting an advocacy group to punish elected officials who advance restrictions on the right to vote.
The group, called Let America Vote, will aim to win over public opinion in defense of voting rights. In a statement, Kander said that lawmakers who pass voter restrictions should face “political consequences.”
“Let America Vote will make the case for voting rights by exposing the real motivations of those who favor voter suppression laws. For the first time, politicians intent on denying certain Americans the right to vote will first have to consider the political consequences,” he said.
Let America Vote launches as President Donald Trump is still insisting there was widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election. Although there is no evidence to support that claim, Trump has pledged a federal investigation, led by Vice President Mike Pence. Meanwhile, a number of states continue to push voter ID laws that make it more difficult for low-income, minority and elderly Americans to cast ballots.
Kander said that he was in part spurred to start the group after hearing Trump claim that millions of people voted illegally.
“Like a whole lot of other people in this country, I’ve been watching over the last couple of months as the president and other members of his party, from top to bottom, have been trying to advance the lie that there is widespread voter fraud in this country,” Kander told The Huffington Post. “And at the same time, I’ve seen what’s coincided with that, which has been the Republican strategy of introducing voter suppression laws, go into hyperdrive.”
“We’re just seeing it accelerate, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that now that they control the White House and other parts of government, that they’re putting that effort into hyperdrive,” he went on, adding, “We’re talking about the very foundation of our democracy ― the right of eligible voters to vote.”
Kander said his group would focus on “unapologetically” communicating arguments against voter ID laws. While most of the debate over voting rights has been in the courts, he said that Trump’s recent comments make clear how important it is for Democrats to start winning over public opinion.
“We find ourselves in a position where it’s become very important that we start making an argument in the public debate about the issue,” he said.
He pointed to Minnesota, where a voter ID proposal was rejected by voters in 2012, as proof that it’s possible to make a successful case against the restrictions.
Before leaving office, President Barack Obama criticized efforts to restrict the franchise, saying they were tied to the legacy of Jim Crow and slavery in the United States. Several former Obama administration officials, including Press Secretary Josh Earnest, speechwriter Jon Favreau and senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer will serve on Let America Vote’s 27-member advisory board.
“It’s a simple proposition: politicians should have to answer for cynically trying to gain a political advantage by making it harder for eligible Americans to vote. Leaders are supposed to serve their constituents, not disenfranchise them,” Earnest said in a statement.
Proponents of voter ID laws argue that they’re necessary to prevent voter fraud. But several studies and investigations, including one by the Department of Justice, have found in-person voter fraud to be exceptionally rare.
Last year, federal courts struck down voter ID laws in Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina. But Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas and other states are still considering voter ID proposals. In Virginia, which already has a voter photo ID law, legislators are advancing a bill that would require residents to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote.
Kander lost his bid to unseat Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) last year, but has been moving to raise his profile within the Democratic Party. Before leaving office last month, he gave a speech to the state legislature in which he criticized Republicans for passing a voter ID law.