- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Three Democratic U.S. congressmen on Wednesday asked a federal agency to provide information regarding whether a top federal elections official had the right to unilaterally change voter registration forms in three states to require proof of citizenship.

Reps. Elijah Cummings, Robert Brady and James E. Clyburn asked the chairman of the Election Assistance Commission for records connected to EAC executive director Brian Newby’s amendment in February of forms in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia.

The group is seeking documents relating to requests from the three states to modify voter registration forms; all analysis of the impact of modifying federal voter registration forms; and all documents giving Newby the authority to unilaterally make the changes.

Voting rights activists criticized the changes Newby made in February as a “secretive move” that created additional barriers for potential voters.

The EAC was created in 2002 to help prevent a repeat of the disputed 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore following voting chaos in the crucial state of Florida.

Newby, who initially was appointed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as Johnson County elections commissioner, used his close ties to Kobach to help him land the federal position in November. Kobach is a leading advocate of restrictions on voting such as voter ID laws and proof of citizenship.

A Shawnee County, Kansas, District Court judge ruled in January that Kobach had no authority to bar voters who registered using a federal form from casting ballots in local and state elections. Two weeks later Newby changed registration forms in Kansas, Georgia and Alabama without public comment or approval of the EAC.

In the letter to Hicks, the congressmen said Newby’s action “could impair, and already may have impaired, the legitimate right to vote of many Americans, and we are seeking a better understanding of how the changes to the federal form were approved.”

EAC spokesman Bryan Whitener said in an email that Hicks is reviewing the request for information and will respond directly to the congressmen.

Kobach told The Associated Press that Newby followed the regulations of the federal agency in approving the change to voter registration forms in the three states.

“The three Democratic congressmen appear to be ignorant about federal law and what federal regulations require,” Kobach said. He said the regulations gave Newby very little discretion in the matter.

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This version of the story corrects the title for Brian Newby in the photo caption.

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