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Editorials

Bromance between Kris Kobach and Brian Newby leads to attack on voting rights

The essential voting rights of Americans are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and multiple laws across the land.

But all of this means little to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and other Republicans who want to trample on those rights and keep legal immigrants, poor people and others out of the voting booth.

Because laws can be changed.

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The Constitution can be skirted.

New rules can be imposed from on high when like-minded people are in the right place.

Which brings us to Brian Newby, the recently departed leader of the Johnson County Election Office.

Late last year he accepted the job as the executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a nonpartisan office that’s supposed to help make voting more accessible and promote good election practices throughout the country.

Shortly after taking that work, Newby abruptly decided that people in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia could not register to vote by using a national form — one that doesn’t require providing proof of U.S. citizenship.

Fortunately, furious legal action has been taken to overturn his decision.

All this sounds so ... familiar.

An election official making it harder to vote, not easier?

An election official getting sued by respectable, long-standing organizations such as the League of Women Voters?

Yes, this is where we pick up the scent of Kobach’s involvement in all this.

Just who helped Newby get his new gig?

The Associated Press laid out that troublesome scenario late this week, using emails gathered through open records requests plus other sources.

Kobach said in an interview that he had told one of Newby’s potential Republican bosses on the commission that he “would be excellent and he was one of Kansas’ most talented county election officers....”

And Newby acknowledged in an email to Kobach that his support had helped him in the job search, adding that he would be saying “repeated prayers of thanksgiving for that.”

This kind of mutual back-slapping goes on all the time in politics and the private-sector world, so what’s the harm?

Here it is.

Take a look at the email Newby sent in June to Kobach: “I think I would enter the job empowered to lead the way I want to.”

And there was this communication from Newby to the Kansas secretary of state: “I wanted you in the loop, in part because of other issues in the past with the (Election Assistance Commission). I also don’t want you thinking that you can’t count on me in an upcoming period that will tax our resources.”

Then, bingo, early this year came the restrictive decision by Newby.

In retrospect, the close ties between the two men make it appear that Newby went to Washington and decided to impose some ugly Kobach-style restrictions that could affect the voting rights of thousands of Americans.

Yes, including some of those back in Kansas, the home state of both men.

All of this is frustrating for the people who have worked so hard across this country to battle the wrongheaded notion that voting rules must be tightened because voter fraud is “rampant.”

That’s Kobach’s siren song to the ultra-conservative crowd in Kansas that has elected him to office. It’s how he got his powers to prosecute voter fraud, powers he’s used so far to almost comically limited effect.

That’s because there is no widespread voter fraud. It’s a dangerous byproduct of Kobach’s ideological imagination.

Unfortunately, crucial voting rights laws have been undermined in too many ways in recent years.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act, meant to prohibit racial discrimination in voting, was turned upside down in 2013 by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that removed federal oversight of nine states’ voting laws. These states, the worst of the worst in the past regarding minorities’ rights to vote, quickly began passing legislation to put new voting restrictions in place.

Finally, there’s this delicious postscript to the bromance between Newby and Kobach.

The AP reports that as early “as April 2015 and continuing in the months leading to Newby’s hiring by the commission, Kobach and his staff met with county officials to discuss concerns about Newby’s job performance in Kansas. Those concerns led officials to call for an audit of the Johnson County election office Newby led.”

The audit found, “Newby intentionally skirted oversight of government credit card expenses, wasted taxpayer funds and improperly claimed mileage and travel expenses....” Newby disagrees with the findings.

So there you have it: Kobach helps Newby with one hand, talks bad about him behind his back and never tells his new federal bosses about those concerns.

Newby gets the job in the nation’s capital, and the scathing audit comes after he’s trampled on the voting rights of Americans in three states.

What a disgrace.

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