I. In Focus This Week
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.
II. Election News This Week
- The Indiana Recount Commission heard testimony this week on whether or not Charlie White committed voter fraud. For nearly seven hours, the Recount Commission took testimony concerning where White lived and voted in 2009 and 2010 to determine whether the Republican was eligible to be elected secretary of state. Democrats argued that White lived in a condo in one town while White’s attorney and his ex-wife argued that White was living and therefore voting, in another town. If the three-member Recount Commission rules White acted improperly by voting in the wrong precinct in the May 2010 election, White would be considered ineligible to have run for secretary of state in November and the office will go to the second-place finisher, Democrat Vop Osili. A ruling by the commission is expected June 30. Separately, White has been charged with six felonies, including three counts of voter fraud, in Hamilton County. His criminal trial is scheduled for later this year.
- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit heard arguments this week surrounding Arizona's 2004 voter-approved requirement that residents show proof of citizenship when they register to vote. A three-judge panel of the Appeals Court ruled in October that the National Voter Registration Act pre-empts Arizona's Proposition 200. Arizona appealed the ruling, and the court agreed to rehear the case "en banc" before an 11-judge panel of the court. Arizona’s Attorney General Tom Horne said it wasn’t unreasonable for the state to seek more documentation, saying the proof could also be mailed in an envelope. He added that some non-citizens have been tricked into signing postcards by voter registration organizations that have sent people door to door. The U.S. Justice Department has filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the 9th Circuit to overturn the state law, which the brief said is invalid because it conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act. The act, which requires states to “accept and use” the federal form, was intended to simplify and standardize voter registration procedures nationwide, the federal government’s lawyers said. According to The Associated Press, lawyers on both sides said after Tuesday’s hearing that they expected another split decision from the larger panel, and whichever side loses would likely take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- In a bizarre case in Butler County, Ohio, the county board of election’s new executive director has been placed on indefinite paid administrative leave after a break-in at the board’s office. In addition to Executive Director Tippi Slaughter, an elections warehouse worker was also placed on paid leave. Board Chairman Tom Ellis told the Cincinnati Enquirer that more information will be released after the sheriff's office completes an investigation into the break-in. "Allegations came to the board's attention and we thought the best thing to do is put these two individuals on leave until we have a full report," Ellis told the paper. On Monday, sheriff’s officials announced an arrest in the break-in—James Charles Schmidt, Jr., Slaughter’s ex-boyfriend. According to the Enquirer, the burglary occurred the same day Slaughter filed for and received a protection order from domestic relations court on a claim that former live-in boyfriend Schmidt, 45, allegedly had threatened her and her family and said he would get her fired from her job. In another strange twist to the story, a local television station learned over the weekend that Slaughter had been indicted by a grand jury for two counts of theft in office charges. According to Democratic Chairwoman Jocelyn Bucaro, Slaughter admitted making $1,700 worth of “unauthorized withdrawals” from the party’s account over an unspecified period of time. Slaughter has resigned from her position with the party.
- How do you get substitute election judges to the polls quickly enough so things can run smoothly on election day? Provide them with a free taxi ride of course. And that’s just what the city of Baltimore is going to do. This week the city authorized spending up to $30,000 to have taxis on stand-by to ferry substitute election judges from city hall to their assigned polling location. The city hires 2,000 judges for each election and on average about 100 don’t show up each time.
- Personnel News: After nearly half a century in the registrar’s office, first in Allen Parish and now in Beauregard Parrish, Evelina Smith is hanging up hat. Smith has seen a lot of changes during her time as registrar including the abolishment of a civics test required to register to vote, lowering the voting age to 18, and of course a variety of voting technologies.