Fate of Election Assistance Commission hangs in balance
Survives one House vote, maybe brought up again
While partisan battles are raging in statehouses across the country over a multitude of election reform issues such as voter ID, early voting and same-day registration, another battle is being waged in the U.S. Capitol over the fate of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC).
In February, Mississippi Republican Greg Harper introduced H.R. 672 along with 22 co-sponsors. The bill called for the elimination of the EAC which according to Harper would save the country approximately $14 million per year.
“The Election Assistance Commission is a prime example of an unnecessary government organization developed with good intentions that has outlived its usefulness,” Harper said in a statement at the time the bill was introduced. “By eliminating the EAC, we are furthering our commitment to eradicate wasteful spending and inefficiencies in government operations.”
Under the proposed legislation, the EAC’s remaining responsibilities and authority would be transferred to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Office of Voting System Testing and Certification program would be transferred to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“H.R.672’s success or failure at this juncture is likely only an introductory action to continue to diminish the EAC and its functions,” said Doug Lewis, executive director of the National Association of Election Officials.
Proponents of the bill argued that with all of the grant money distributed and voting machine standards in place, the agency had served its purpose and that the time had come to eliminate it.
“This was supposed to be a temporary program. It was supposed to give temporary assistance to the states to make sure they could comply with HAVA, and it has done that,” Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), chair of the House Administration Committee said during legislative debate this week. “It has let out the money, billions of dollars that go to the states to assist in doing that. Its time has come and gone.”
In his argument, Lungren pointed out that the National Association of Secretaries of State approved a resolution as far back as 2005 urging the abolishment of the agency. The organization reaffirmed its opinion in 2010.
“How often do we have people who come to us and say, ‘We don’t need this assistance anymore?’ Not very often. Should we ignore that in this particular case?” Lungren said.
However, those in support of maintaining the agency — including local election administration officials—argue that while the agency may have fulfilled its original purpose, there was still a need to ensure that elections standards remain high and to provide the best information possible to local elections officials.
“What this agency was designed to do was to bring the best information possible so that elections could be run in the best way possible,” argued Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), minority whip. “So this is 20 cents for each of those voters, to make sure that they have access and their vote is counted and counted properly. Eliminating funding for the EAC would harm the integrity of our elections in 2012 and for years to come.”
Hoyer was a ranking member of the House Administration Committee when the Help America Vote Act of 2002 was approved as well as a co-sponsor of the legislation.
“The EAC is not perfect. … Should we fix it where it’s broken? Yes. Should we do that to every agency? Yes,” Hoyer said. “But to eliminate the very agency constructed to ensure we do not repeat the travesty of 2000 is to retreat from ensuring fair, open, accessible elections where every vote will count.”
While the debate over the EAC has raged on Capitol Hill and amongst elections academics and officials nationwide, according to Jeannie Layson, a spokesperson for the EAC, it’s been business as usual at the agency.
“EAC staff are professionals,” said Layson. “Regardless of what is being contemplated, we all have jobs to do and a mission to accomplish—help improve federal elections. Unless we are instructed otherwise, we will continue to assist voters and election officials.”
On Wednesday, members of the House voted 235-187 in favor of the bill to eliminate the EAC, however since it was brought up under a suspension of House rules, it did not pass. A suspension vote requires two-thirds support. In Wednesday’s vote every Republican voted to support it and every Democrat voted to oppose. The GOP needed at least 40 Democrats to cross the aisle.
Harper told The Hill the decision by Democrats to oppose the bill is an "insult" to struggling taxpayers.
"Instead of cutting wasteful spending here in Washington, House Democrats have voted to sustain an obsolete agency that pays its employees an average of over $100,000 a year yet serves no purpose," he said. "This is exactly what’s wrong with Washington and exactly what we need to fix."
According to a spokesman in Harper’s office, they fully expect the bill to be considered for a vote again under normal House rules.