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Group Calls For Investigation Into Election Official's Ties With Kobach

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A Washington, D.C.-based group says a federal election officials emails with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach "raise serious questions".

Did U.S. Election Assistance Commissioner Brian Newby's recently unearthed emails with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach violate federal rules? 

The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Allied Progress alleges they did and now wants the EAC's Inspector General to dig further into the matter. 

In a letter addressed to the EAC's Inspector General sent Thursday, the group says emails between Newby and Kobach published earlier this month by the Associated Press show Newby violated the EAC's rules for communicating with state election officials.

The policy bars EAC officials from having "nonpublic communications" with so-called "prohibited individuals", which include state-level officials like Kobach, whose work is affected by EAC policies.

In addition, the group says the emails are proof Kobach held "undue sway" over Newby in his federal role as he "unilaterally implemented" strict new voter ID requirements in Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas earlier this year. 

"More than anything, what these [communication] rules are in place for is to protect the public interest," Karl Frisch, Allied Progress' Executive Director, told KCUR's Steve Kraske on Up To Date Thursday. "So that everyday Americans can trust that their government officials are not being swayed by any undue influence." 

Newby has long-standing ties to Kobach dating back to his time as Johnson County's top election official. Late last year, Newby took a job as the Executive Director of the EAC. It is in the transition to that federal role that Newby is drawing scrutiny. 

Emails uncovered by the Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that after he became the EAC's new leader, Newby wrote Kobach "I wanted you in the loop", and "I also don't want you thinking that you can't count on me in an upcoming period that will tax our resources."

Frisch says this indicates Newby was under Kobach's influence when the EAC mandated new stricter voter ID regulations in several states that require voters to provide proof of citizenship when they register. 

"It's not surprising that he would do what Kobach wants in his new position at the federal level," Frisch says. 

In response to an inquiry, the EAC press office issued the following statement: "Mr. Newby is confident that all communications with the Kansas Secretary of State were appropriate."

A call to the Kansas Secretary of State's office was not returned.

The Inspector General's office of the Election Assistance Commission could not be reached for comment after the Allied Progress' letter was sent Thursday. 

This latest dust-up is separate from another recent controversy connected to Newby. An audit released last month faulted Newby for improperly claiming mileage reimbursements and travel expenses in his time as head of the Johnson County Election Commission. 

Newby called the audit "inaccurate and misleading."

Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster and a reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle. 

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.