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.”
The EAC was created in 2002 after the fiasco of the 2000 Florida recount, with a goal of helping states to administer elections, and making voting easier. It usually has two Republican and two Democratic commissioners, but one of the Democratic seats is currently vacant.
In January, a month after taking over as the agency’s executive director, Newby outraged voting rights advocates by changing the state-specific instructions on the federal voter registration form for three states — Kansas, Alabama, and Georgia — requiring voters in those states to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Newby acted without approval from the agency’s commissioners and without a public comment period.
Those states had passed proof-of-citizenship laws for voter registration applicants and had asked that the EAC change the form to reflect that requirement. The agency had until then declined to do so, saying that the change violated federal voting law, which aims to make registration as easy as possible.