A Kansas county elections official used close ties to one of the nation’s leading advocates of voting restrictions to help secure the top job at a government agency entrusted with making voting more accessible, and then used the federal position to implement an obstacle to voter registration in three states. An email provided to The Associated Press through open records requests offers a glimpse into the mindset of Brian Newby, executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, who decided — without public comment or approval from bosses — that residents of Alabama, Kansas and Georgia can no longer register to vote using a national form without providing proof of U.S. citizenship. As a finalist for the job of executive director, Newby said in a June email to his benefactor, Kansas’ Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, that he was friends with two of the commissioners at the federal agency, and told Kobach: “I think I would enter the job empowered to lead the way I want to.” Voting rights advocates were stunned by Newby’s action once he got the job and have sued to overturn it. Activists say it flies in the face of the commission’s mission to provide a simple, easy form to encourage voter registration.
The U.S. Supreme Court has said that states must accept and use the federal voter registration form, and an appeals court ruled in 2014 in a lawsuit filed by Kobach that states could not force the commission to require residents to provide proof-of-citizenship documents on the national form. The little-known commission was created in 2002 to help prevent a repeat of the disputed 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore following voting chaos in the crucial state of Florida. Among the commission’s duties is oversight of the national voter registration form. The federal body is supposed to have two Republican and two Democratic commissioners but has only one Democrat now because of a vacancy.
Documents obtained by AP show Newby’s ties to Kobach, the architect of voter ID and other restrictive voter registration laws around the nation that he says are needed to prevent voter fraud. Critics say there is very little voter fraud and Kobach’s measures hurt voter registration and deprive eligible voters of the right to vote.
Kobach had appointed Newby to be a county elections commissioner in Kansas, and helped him get the federal job that he took in November. “I wanted you in the loop, in part because of other issues in the past with the EAC,” Newby emailed Kobach. “I also don’t want you thinking that you can’t count on me in an upcoming period that will tax our resources.”