Former Johnson County Election Commissioner’s leadership of federal agency draws scrutiny

County leaders raised concerns about the management of the Johnson County Election Office prior to Brian Newby’s departure in 2015. Photo credit U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The former Johnson County Election Commissioner who left a string of financial and human resources scandals in his wake here after he accepted an appointment with the federal Election Assistance Commission is now drawing scrutiny for his direction of that agency.

A lengthy investigative piece published by POLITICO this month details concerns with Brian Newby’s leadership of the EAC, which is charged with helping local voting operations across the country adhere to the requirements of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

According to the report, elections officials and federal employees have been disheartened by actions from Newby that have stymied efforts to address election security issues. From reporter Eric Geller’s story:

…Newby has not only frustrated his own employees and helped create a staff exodus — nine EAC office directors have left since Newby arrived — but also angered cybersecurity experts, election integrity activists and state and local officials. His reputation in the elections community conjures up “the eye-roll emoji,” said one former election official. “Everybody kind of puts up with him.”

POLITICO’s seven sources — all of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly — described Newby, a Republican, as too beholden to the EAC’s GOP chairwoman, Christy McCormick, who masterminded his appointment and later spent years denying the reality of Russian interference in the 2016 election. They also said that Newby alienated his agency almost immediately by wading into the issue of a citizenship requirement for voter eligibility — and that he has failed to regain their trust ever since.

Newby served as Johnson County Election Commissioner from 2005 to 2015, when he left to accept the job as the EAC’s executive director. But in the year following his departure from the Johnson County Election Office, word broke that his tenure here had been marked by questionable practices. Newby was having an affair with an election office employee who he had given a promotion. He had found ways to avoid oversight of the use of Johnson County government credit cards. Those issues prompted Johnson County officials to push for more local control over the election office, which had been supervised primarily by the Kansas secretary of state.

In the POLITICO story, Newby pushed back on the criticisms of his management style raised by EAC employees and people from other agencies who have dealt with him.