The Kansas Secretary of State has begun the process of finding an election commissioner to replace Brian Newby, who for the past 10 years has overseen elections in Johnson County. Newby has taken a job as the executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Newby’s last day as the top election official in Johnson County was Nov. 13. His replacement will be appointed by the Kansas Secretary of State’s office.
There is no interim county election commissioner in the meantime. The vacancy has been advertised by the Secretary of State’s office, which has an online site to submit resumes and cover letters. Qualified applicants have to have lived in the county for at least two years. Applications will close Friday.
Newby has been appointed by both Democratic and Republican secretaries of state. He was reappointed last year by Secretary of State Kris Kobach for a four-year term. His successor will fill out the remainder of that term.
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Newby’s new job is running the Election Assistance Commission, an independent, bipartisan office created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The commission provides information on best practices to election officials throughout the country, compiles election data and certifies new voting systems as local election offices install them, Newby said.
The county elections office has been recognized numerous times for its practices, including a national award last year for the “iPad, iRegister” program to register people to vote who recently became U.S. citizens.
But awards are not the thing Newby thinks of when he considers his time in Johnson County. “Voters in Johnson County have confidence their elections are handled properly,” he said. “When I look back at my tenure I would say this is the thing I’m proudest of.”
Newby credits a tradition of good election practices that began before he took office and his “team of all-stars,” for smoothly run elections.
His successor will have some challenges, as the office gears up for the presidential election next year, he said. Whoever becomes the new commissioner will have to quickly get ready for the candidates’ filing deadline June 1. “That in itself is huge,” Newby said.
The next commissioner also will have to work with voting machines that are antiquated and on the verge of obsolescence, he said. Newby pressed the county commission this year for an upgrade in the county’s voting systems, which he said are 13 years old. The county needs new machines, poll books and tabulation systems to stay current, he said.
Such a new system would cost about $10 million, Newby said. But the upgrade was not included in the county budget. Newby counts that as a regret.
Newby said he is excited about the new Washington job. He said he considered staying in Johnson County, where in another year he would have been the longest-tenured county election commissioner in the state, but the federal job sounded too good. “This is definitely about going to something and not leaving something,” he said of his decision. “It’s the pinnacle of your career if you are an elections commissioner.”
The Election Assistance Commission has approval power over new voting systems sold to counties as they replace their old ones. Systems in place before 2005 were grandfathered in. Therefore few communities have federally certified voting systems, including Johnson County’s, he said.
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