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Democrat: North Dakota’s new elections chief ‘ineffective’

January 29, 2020 GMT
FILE - In this file image made from a Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, video, Brian Newby, then-executive director and general council for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, appears at a public meeting in Arlington, Va. North Dakota's secretary of state says he has no problem with the state's new elections director, Newby, despite complaints that he undermined election security work, created a toxic work environment and broke the law in his previous roles elsewhere. Newby started working for North Dakota's secretary of state's office in December 2019.(Yorktel/U.S. Elections Assistance Commission via AP, File)
FILE - In this file image made from a Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, video, Brian Newby, then-executive director and general council for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, appears at a public meeting in Arlington, Va. North Dakota's secretary of state says he has no problem with the state's new elections director, Newby, despite complaints that he undermined election security work, created a toxic work environment and broke the law in his previous roles elsewhere. Newby started working for North Dakota's secretary of state's office in December 2019.(Yorktel/U.S. Elections Assistance Commission via AP, File)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota’s secretary of state says he has no problem with the state’s new elections director, despite complaints that he undermined election security work, created a toxic work environment and broke the law in his previous roles elsewhere.

Brian Newby, who was executive director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission from 2015 to 2019, started working for North Dakota’s secretary of state’s office in mid-December.

Deflecting criticism from Democratic state leaders, Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger said Monday that he and Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum reviewed Newby’s background and experience. They found him to be the most qualified candidate of about a dozen who applied, Jaeger said.

“We’re very comfortable with him,” Jaeger said. “We wouldn’t have made that decision if we didn’t know everything that we do know about those circumstances and stuff.”

Politico last year reported management troubles at the federal elections agency under Newby’s tenure, including allegations that he blocked election and cybersecurity development and training.

In 2016, a federal appeals court blocked Newby’s decision to grant requests from Alabama, Georgia and Kansas to require proof of citizenship on a federal form for voter registration. Voting rights groups alleged that Newby illegally changed proof-of-citizenship requirements on the federal registration form at the behest of the three states.

Newby told The Bismarck Tribune that he’s proud of what he accomplished with the federal agency and blamed the “political environment” for the allegations leveled against him.

Politico later reported that the commission voted 2-2 on party lines in September not to renew the four-year terms of Newby and the commission’s general counsel.

When Newby started working at the federal election agency in 2016, The Associated Press reported that emails revealed he had created a toxic workplace in his previous job in Kansas by having an affair with a woman whom he promoted, and that he used that woman to conceal extravagant expenses. The emails portrayed a rogue election official who berated employees and deliberately bypassed supervision.

Newby denied having an affair and said “there was no misuse or circumvention” of expenditures.

In a statement Monday, the executive director of North Dakota’s Democratic Party, Michael Taylor, told The Tribune “the swamp appears to be draining right into North Dakota.”

“At a time where election security is crucial, Newby has proven to be an ineffective leader with an unwillingness to take it seriously,” Taylor said.