Jason Kander, a former Army captain and Missouri secretary of state, came within 3 percentage points of unseating Republican Sen. Roy Blunt in 2016. He’s not running for anything right now, but the 36-year-old is trying to upend the political landscape in 2018 as president of the ballot-access organization Let America Vote. Hanna Trudo caught up with Kander to discuss his expansion plans for 2018—and why voting rights is an issue made for the national stage.
Based on your own work, do you consider the dismantling of President Trump’s voter-fraud commission a major victory?
The president didn’t expect that millions of Americans would refuse to let him take away their voting rights. Eventually it became too much and he couldn’t finish his plan. Activists all over the country who called their secretaries of state, who protested, who spoke out against the commission deserve the credit for this victory. Forcing Trump to disband his commission is definitely a victory for democracy.
How do you measure success with Let America Vote?
Our entire mission is about creating consequences for voter suppression. We were involved in Virginia, for instance, where we knocked on over 194,000 doors. In several of the state legislative races that were flipped from Republicans to Democrats, we had people on the ground knocking on over 30,000 doors per district in many cases—and in some very close races involving Republican incumbents who are now former legislators who voted against voting rights. We measure our success by creating those political consequences.
If Democrats win the House or Senate, what is the most effective way to address voter suppression with majority control?
At the federal level, it’s very clear that we need to restore the Voting Rights Act. There’s no doubt about that. There should be a massive effort at the national level against voter suppression. There should be pressure on the Justice Department to actually do what the Justice Department has traditionally done, which is stand up on the side of voters instead of on the side of vote-suppressors. That’s changed under this administration.
Where are you opening new offices?
We’re opening five new offices in states where important voting rights battles are playing out: New Hampshire, Georgia, Nevada, Tennessee, and Iowa. Those offices will be open within the next few months.
How did you decide on those five?
Each one of those states have recent instances of voter suppression. … In Iowa … our effort is going to focus on two things: one, a photo-ID law that was recently passed, and two, the fact that the secretary of state, Paul Pate, actually proposed himself that photo-ID law. Secretary Pate was elected by about 20,000 votes in 2014. Now he’s up for reelection and he’s passed a law that could disenfranchise as many as 200,000 Iowans. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Is it safe to assume you’ll expand further?
It’s safe to assume if you’re a Republican elected official that the era of pushing voter suppression without a political consequence is over.
Is this subject big enough to ignite a national debate in 2020?
I don’t think there’s much doubt that the president, by placing voter suppression at the center of his reelection strategy, has put a spotlight on the issue for Americans. The average American—no matter what party they belong to—is not interested in seeing politicians try and change the rules so they can make it more likely that they’ll win their reelection. What I would prefer is that Republicans just stop doing this and we don’t have to have a national conversation about it.
Is it an issue regardless of who’s in office?
I’m sure it’s more polite to say this is not a partisan issue. But it’s not true. This is a political strategy by the Republicans.
With Trump’s commission gone, how will voter fraud pop up next?
The president is not going to stop trying to roll back voting rights because it’s a key part of his reelection strategy. … He knows that in order to win he’s going to have to change the rules. Unfortunately, he doesn’t need a presidential task force to undermine faith in American democracy.