Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach loses a legal fight with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Then a Kobach appointee newly hired to lead the EAC unilaterally does what his former boss wanted. And an agency created by the 2002 Help America Vote Act is cast in the unlikely role of joining Kobach in making it harder for Americans to vote.
The sequence of events looks more sketchy in light of documents obtained by the Associated Press. They indicate that the ties to Kobach helped then-Johnson County Election Commissioner Brian Newby get the job last fall as the EAC’s executive director.
Once hired, Newby promptly granted Kobach’s renewed request to require that would-be voters in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama provide citizenship documents when they use the national voter registration form.
According to AP, Newby had e-mailed Kobach last summer that he was friends with two EAC commissioners and that “I think I would enter the job empowered to lead the way I want to.”
Newby had further advised Kobach: “I also don’t want you thinking that you can’t count on me in an upcoming period that will tax our resources.”
While Newby was being considered for the EAC job in September, Johnson County hosted the 2015 Midwest Election Officials Conference, at which all three EAC commissioners spoke. A recent Johnson County audit questioned the event’s $18,000 cost to county taxpayers, as well as thousands more in “nonessential” spending during Newby’s last five years in an office to which he had been appointed by Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh and reappointed by successors Chris Biggs and Kobach.
As the Washington Post noted this week in an article on Kobach, the Justice Department is now refusing to defend Newby’s decision – which was made without public notice or commissioners’ review – against a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters and several civil rights groups.
Kobach has said the burden on voters posed by Kansas’ law requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote is “so small as to be virtually nonexistent.” But by last fall more than 30,000 Kansans had landed in voter registration limbo since 2013 over their failure to comply with the paperwork mandate.
As Elisabeth MacNamara, national president of the League of Women Voters, said: “Voters should not have to face an obstacle course in order to participate in our democracy.”
And Kansans should not have to wonder about the lengths to which Kobach will go on his quixotic quest against so-called voter fraud.