Nonprofit demands investigation of former Kansas election official

WICHITA — A nonprofit public advocacy group called Wednesday for an investigation of a top federal elections official in the wake of a media report about his communications with one of the nation’s leading advocates of voting restrictions.

Washington, D.C.,-based Allied Progress provided to The Associated Press a letter is said will be sent on Thursday to the Inspector General of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission asking it to look into communications between that agency’s executive director, Brian Newby, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The nonpartisan group calls itself a grassroots organization that aims to hold special interest groups accountable, and has taken up causes as diverse as voting rights, payday lending reform and keeping a crude oil export ban.

The request comes in the wake of an AP story based on emails obtained through open records requests showing that Newby used his ties to Kobach, a leading advocate of voting restrictions, to help secure the top job at a government agency entrusted with making voting accessible. Newby then used the federal position to implement rules requiring residents of Kansas, Alabama and Georgia to provide citizenship documentation to register to vote using a national form.

Its complaint also cited an interview Newby had with MSNBC in which he acknowledged communicating with election officials in those states about implementing the voter registration changes, without including commissioners in those discussions. Allied Progress said EAC policy prohibits nonpublic communications with any entity regulated by the EAC.

“It comes down to an issue of trust,” said Karl Frisch, executive director for the advocacy group. “The reason that these rules are in place is so that public officials don’t come under undue influence.”

Newby and Kobach did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment. The commission’s spokesman, Bryan Whitener, said the agency could not comment until it had received the letter.

It is unclear whether the inspector general’s office will investigate the complaint, but Frisch said such officials are there to do exactly what the advocacy group is asking: to make sure policies that are established are followed and that employees are held accountable for violations.

EAC Inspector General Patricia Layfield declined comment.

The little-known federal 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, which Congress intended to be a simple, easy form to encourage voter registration.

Kobach had appointed Newby to be a county elections commissioner in Kansas, and helped him get the federal job that he took in November.