When Brian Newby took the helm of a federal election agency, he left behind an unfolding scandal in Kansas in which he was having an affair with a woman he promoted in his previous job and used her to skirt oversight of their expenses, prompting a local prosecutor to investigate, according to e-mails obtained by the Associated Press. The affair and resulting fallout were revealed in hundreds of e-mails ordered released after the AP sued Johnson County, where Newby was the top election official before leaving to become executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The e-mails – coupled with hundreds more obtained from the Kansas secretary of state’s office through a separate open records request – portray an election official who berated employees and deliberately bypassed supervision. They also document a toxic workplace created by his affair with then-Assistant Election Commissioner Jessica White, an apparent violation of county policy on intimate relationships with subordinates. In a June 2015 exchange from his work e-mail to her personal address, the then-married Newby told White: “You, my little lover, are so wonderful.” Newby and White did not respond to numerous phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.
For years, states have been sounding the alarm about voter fraud and pushing laws to prevent it. One such law would require voters to prove their citizenship, with a birth certificate, passport, or the like, before casting a ballot. This month a federal court slapped down proof-of-citizenship laws, but not for good. The opinion leaves wiggle room, and state lawmakers are not giving up. They are, however, wasting their effort. Anti-fraud measures can make elections safer in some circumstances, but usually they either have no effect (other than creating red tape) or make matters worse. My research proves it. Let’s get up to speed. In 2004, Arizonans approved an initiative requiring voters to prove their citizenship before they could vote. In 2013, the Supreme Court held [PDF] that federal law—specifically, the National Voter Registration Act—preempted the initiative. That Act requires states to use a form, developed by the federal Election Assistance Commission, to register voters for federal elections. The form requires would-be voters to swear, under penalty of law, that they are US citizens. States can ask the EAC to add state-specific instructions to the federal form, including additional requirements on citizenship, but they cannot demand it. Other states—Alabama, Georgia, Kansas—adopted laws like Arizona’s, and they worked many channels to get them enforced. But their efforts failed. States courts, federal courts [PDF], and the EAC [PDF] put proof of citizenship on ice.
Here’s the background of the Newby case. Kansas, Georgia and Alabama have been trying to make voting harder for voters through a series of restrictive voter ID laws. Another approach of these states has deployed is forcing voters to produce documentary evidence that they are American citizens when they register to vote. Asking for documentary proof of citizenship may sound reasonable enough, at first blush, but this runs afoul of the federal “motor voter” law which bars states from asking for additional information when voters register to vote using a standard federal form. The whole point of the motor voter law (whose formal name is National Voter Registration Act of 1993), was to make it easier for eligible Americans to register to vote when they were at the local DMV. While the legislators who pass these restrictive voting laws may think they are barring non-citizens from voting, instead these laws can disenfranchise regular Americans, especially those who were born at home instead of a hospital. These Americans may find it difficult, or well neigh impossible, to produce documentation of their birth proving that they are who they know they are: American citizens.
National: U. S. appeals court leaves proof-of-citizenship voting requirement to federal panel | The Washington Post
A U.S. appeals court panel that barred Kansas, Alabama and Georgia from adding a proof-of-citizenship requirement to a federal voter registration form wrote Monday that federal law leaves it to a federal elections agency — not the states — to determine whether such a change is necessary. The 2-to-1 written opinion follows a Sept. 9 order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The panel wrote that although the document requirement “unquestionably” hinders voter registration groups ahead of the November elections, there was “precious little” evidence of voter fraud by noncitizens, the problem the states said the measure is intended to fight. The Kansas secretary of state had told the court that “between 2003 and 2015 eighteen noncitizens had tried to or successfully registered to vote. Only one of them attempted to use the Federal Form,” the judges wrote.
High-ranking congressional Democrats are raising more serious concerns about a move by the director of a federal voting agency that made it easier for several red states to require documentary proof of citizenship from people registering to vote. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Rep. Robert A. Brady and Rep. James E. Clyburn urged the Election Assistance Commission in a letter sent Wednesday to formally rescind a change made in January to the instructions on the federal voter registration form for Kansas, Georgia and Alabama, which allowed those states to require citizenship proof. A federal court found this month that the move, which was carried out unilaterally by the agency’s executive director, Brian Newby, could disenfranchise large numbers of eligible voters. Ruling that the move may violate federal voting law, the court blocked it from being enforced pending a resolution of the case. The letter outlines what the lawmakers called “troubling findings” from their probe into the issue — among them, that Newby conducted no written analysis of the impact of the change, and that he himself may no longer be certain that it was legal.
Voting rights advocates are accusing a Washington bureaucrat of helping Republican-led states enforce tight restrictions on voter registration, a move they say turned a federal voting agency into a de facto ally of state officials looking to make voting harder. A progressive group on Wednesday called on the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to conduct an internal investigation into the actions taken by Brian Newby, the agency’s executive director. The group, Allied Progress, charged that Newby had improper private communications with his former boss, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and perhaps other election officials, about their requests to change the federal voter registration form to require applicants to show proof of citizenship. Patricia Layfield, the inspector general of the EAC, said no decision had yet been made on whether to open an investigation into Newby’s actions. “I continue to consider the various options available,” Layfield told NBC. “I’m taking the concerns expressed in the letter very seriously.”
Kansas: DC group wants inspector general to examine Brian Newby’s voter decision | The Kansas City Star
A Washington group has renewed its call for an investigation of Brian Newby, the former head of the Johnson County Election Office and now in charge of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, or EAC. Allied Progress has written the EAC’s inspector general, asking her to examine Newby’s decision to approve applications from three states, including Kansas, to modify their federal registration forms in order to require documentary proof of citizenship to register. Newby made the decision to allow the changes despite the absence of formal approval from the EAC’s board of comissioners. Newby said he had the authority to make the decision on his own. Several groups sued to stop implementation of the requirement. In September, a federal appeals court blocked Kansas and the other states from changing their federal forms to require citizenship proof.
A federal court has blocked Kansas and two other states from requiring voters to show proof of citizenship if they register using the federal form. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission approved a controversial rule in late January to allow Kansas, Georgia and Alabama to require proof of citizenship from voters who register using the federal form. The League of Women Voters brought a lawsuit against the rule, and the U.S. Circuit of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted a preliminary injunction Friday by a 2-1 decision. Under the order, Kansas can no longer require people to show proof of citizenship when they register using the federal form and must allow anyone who registered after Jan. 29 to vote regardless of whether they provided proof of citizenship.
National: Appeals Court Blocks Proof-of-Citizenship Requirement for Voters in 3 States | Associated Press
A federal appeals court on Friday blocked Kansas, Georgia and Alabama from requiring residents to prove they are U.S. citizens when registering to vote using a national form. The 2-1 ruling is a victory for voting rights groups who said a U.S. election official illegally changed proof-of-citizenship requirements on the federal registration form at the behest of the three states. People registering to vote in other states are only required to swear that that they are citizens, not show documentary proof. The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia acted swiftly in the case, issuing a two-page, unsigned ruling just a day after hearing oral arguments. A federal judge in July had refused to block the requirement while the case is considered on the merits. The League of Women Voters and civil rights groups argued that the requirements could lead to the “mass disenfranchisement” of thousands of potential voters — many of them poor, African-American and living in rural areas.
National: U.S. appeals court to hear challenge to proof-of-citizenship voting requirement | The Washington Post
Civil rights groups are set to ask a federal appeals court panel in Washington on Thursday to block Kansas, Alabama and Georgia from enforcing proof-of-citizenship requirements for people using a federal form to register to vote. The League of Women Voters and its state chapters, the NAACP in Georgia and other groups said in court briefs that the U.S. Justice Department agrees with their February lawsuit. In them, they alleged Brian D. Newby, executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, improperly and unilaterally granted requests by the three states to require proof of citizenship for new voters on the federal registration form, reflecting state registration requirements. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon of Washington in June rejected a request to block the three states from enforcing the change, a decision the civil rights groups appealed.