The key players in the push to purge Americans from voter rolls

Ed Pilkington in New York
Donald Trump with Kris Kobach. Kobach is running to be governor of Kansas. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

J Christian Adams

Adams, 50, the president and general counsel of Pilf, is at the forefront of the rightwing push to purge large numbers of people off voter rolls. He was a core member of Donald Trump’s ill-fated commission on voter fraud, a panel of the country’s leading voter suppressors that collapsed after only eight months having failed to produce evidence of widespread illegal voting.

Adams has aggressively demanded voter purges since 2013, arguing that “tens of thousands of aliens are on American voter rolls, and they’re voting”.

Previously, he worked as an electoral lawyer in the administration of George W Bush, where he spearheaded a headline-grabbing case in which the justice department brought its first civil rights prosecution against black people for suppressing the votes of white residents.

He stayed on under President Obama until 2010, when he resigned, complaining of a lack of action to protect white voters against alleged intimidation by members of the New Black Panther party in Philadelphia.

Hans von Spakovsky

A senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, Von Spakovsky, 59, has been pushing the idea of rampant voter fraud for two decades. He has been dubbed by voting rights experts at the Brennan Center as the “godfather of the conservative anti-voting movement”.

Along with Adams, Von Spakovsky was a member of Trump’s voter fraud commission. He cut his teeth as a senior official in the justice department’s civil rights division from 2001 where he quickly gained a reputation for promoting policies that would restrict access to voting and purge names from voter rolls.

In June, a federal judge in Kansas tore a strip off Von Spakovsky over his so-called “expert” testimony to court. The judge castigated him for “his myriad misleading statements” and said: “The record is replete with evidence of Mr Von Spakovsky’s bias”.

Susan Carleson

Carleson is the chairman and CEO of the American Civil Rights Union, (ACRU), which was founded in 1998 by her late husband, Robert Carleson, a former senior adviser to President Reagan.

Not to be confused with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), whose name it mimics, the ACRU sees itself as the right-wing equivalent of its near-namesake. It has both J Christian Adams and Hans von Spakovsky on its policy board.

The ACRU has initiated several lawsuits trying to foist voter purges on electoral jurisdictions. Last year it brought a lawsuit against Broward county in Florida, claiming the election supervisor had failed to weed out dead and other ineligible voters from its lists. The federal judge issued a ruling in March that criticized ACRU’s evidence for being “misleading” and found in favor of the election supervisor who, the judge said, had made a “reasonable effort” to maintain accurate lists of eligible voters.

Kris Kobach

The Kansas secretary of state is one of the most influential voter purgers in the country. He acted as deputy to Vice-President Mike Pence on Trump’s voter fraud commission until it folded, having failed to produce any substantial evidence of widespread illegal voting.

In 2005 he pioneered the much-discredited data system known as Crosscheck that is designed to detect individuals registering to vote in two or more states, and then purge them from the rolls. Academic studies have found the database woefully inaccurate, warning that it could erroneously expunge 300 legitimate voters for every individual genuinely caught double voting.

Kobach, 52, is running to be governor of Kansas after he won the Republican primary last month.