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.
Newby’s penchant for ignoring supervision continued when he took the top federal job in November 2015 at an agency whose mission is to make voting easier. He angered voting-rights advocates when, without public notice or approval from agency commissioners, he tightened voting registration rules in three states.
A federal appeals court last month temporarily blocked Newby from changing a federal voter registration form to require residents of Kansas, Alabama and Georgia to show proof of U.S. citizenship, saying it is “difficult to imagine a more clear violation” of federal administrative law.
A county audit of the Kansas election office found Newby intentionally circumvented oversight by charging expenses to White’s government credit card, allowing him to review and approve his own spending. Auditors also said Newby and White made purchases without sufficient business justification and supporting documentation.
Some e-mails offer a glimpse into an investigation opened by the district attorney’s office. Newby’s Kansas office had drawers full of phones, tablets and other equipment not listed in inventory.