The Brian Newby I knew in the 11 years he served as Johnson County election commissioner thought the big deal about voter fraud was blown way out of proportion.
We discussed this on several occasions. I knew he had to be careful what he said because his boss — the one who appointed him — was none other than Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Kobach has a national reputation as one of the most virulent crusaders for restrictive voting because, Kobach claims, he wants to stamp out voter fraud. There has been no indication in Kansas or anywhere else that voter fraud is a major issue.
Kobach pushed for laws that require Kansans who want to register to vote to come up with documents like a passport or birth certificate, which tens of thousands of Kansans — mostly poor — don’t have, and therefore they cannot vote. (Note: This is not about showing a driver’s license at the time you vote, which is a reasonable request.)
Newby told me that over his entire term he came across only a couple of instances of double-voting that could technically be defined as fraud. However, Newby was clear that he thought these were mistakes, not intentional fraud.
Newby was always coy when I asked what he thought of the restrictions on Kansans who want to vote, spearheaded by Kobach. If he could have gotten away with winking, I bet he would have. He never gave me a straight answer, but I had little doubt that his heart was in making it easy, not difficult, to register to vote.
Just consider what Newby said at the end of every email he sent: “What have you done for our voters today?” That indicates a general compassion. The question should now read: “What have you done ‘to’ would-be voters today?” It looks like what Newby has done is to sell his soul for personal ambitions.
It appears that some sort of deal was made, or there was an unspoken agreement. If Kobach would help him get the job of executive director of the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, which he did, according to uncovered emails, Newby would make sure that what Kobach was trying to do back in Kansas would get done.
It had been earlier ruled that Kobach and the state of Kansas — as well as Alabama and Georgia — were allowed to enforce tough document requirements for state races only.
However, when it came to national elections, the states could not interfere with the federal rules. Those rules, passed by Congress, required only a notarized statement that one was qualified to vote. The idea was to keep it simple and easy to vote.
Newby, on his own, without his commissioners’ knowledge, held discussions with the election officials in those three states, including Kobach, about implementing voter registration changes. He admitted this in a televised interview.
The upshot was, these states could require citizenship documents to register and vote in national elections. Kobach got his wish. An investigation has been called for. The inspector general for the commission has not yet responded. No one has said whether Newby had the authority to make those changes.
Meanwhile, in Johnson County in a completely unrelated matter, an independent audit was just conducted of the election commissioner’s office during Newby’s term.
The audit uncovered several improprieties involving expenses. Newby has denied everything alleged in the audit.
Where does it go from here?
Newby appears to have disgraced himself enough to justify booting him out of his job as executive director of this federal commission.
The county says it will pursue its investigation until a satisfactory outcome has been reached.
It seems like voter fraud should be the least of our concerns.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org