II. Our Say
We Still Need the EAC
By Doug Chapin,
University of Minnesota
Last week, the Committee on House Administration (CHA) voted 6-3 on partisan lines to approve convene to markup H.R. 634, the “Election Assistance Commission Termination Act.” The bill is part of CHA Chairman Gregg Harper (MS-3)’s ongoing attempt to eliminate the EAC, a campaign he has waged for several Congresses (and about which I wrote most recently in March 2015).
The bill itself is pretty simple: it dissolves the EAC, returns its NVRA (“motor voter”) regulatory authority to the Federal Election Commission (whence it came thanks to the Help America Vote Act of 2002) and directs the federal government to wind up the EAC’s affairs. The bill is silent on other key facets of the EAC’s work, like certification and testing of voting technology and data collection via the Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS). It’s hard to believe such work would simply stop, but the bill says nothing about what would happen post-termination.
Previous versions of the bill have made it out of committee but haven’t gotten floor consideration – and none have been introduced or considered in the Senate. Still, with the change in Administrations and scrutiny of the nation’s election system remaining high, there is concern in the election community that the EAC – which came back two years ago from a lengthy limbo and has been at a sprint ever since to restore programs and partner with election officials – could be in danger this time.
The timing of the bill is especially odd this year, given that the EAC is at the heart of discussions between state and local election officials about the reach and impact of the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to designate elections as “critical infrastructure” in response to concerns about cybersecurity. This week, the EAC is co-hosting the meeting of the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, which is tasked with updating federal voting technology standards. Later this year, the EAC will release the data from the 2016 EAVS, which supports evidence-based management nationwide AND is crucial to the work of agencies like the Defense Department’s Federal Voting Assistance Program to ensure voting access by our overseas and military voters worldwide.
2016 taught me that predictions are difficult (and/or I’m just no good at them) but I am still skeptical that this bill goes anywhere in the current Congress. The security and integrity of American elections is a topic of great interest right now, whether you believe there is voter fraud (or insist there’s no evidence of it) or have concerns about external threats, foreign or domestic, to the technology that supports our voting system. In that environment, I find it hard to believe that there is a majority on Capitol Hill to eliminate the one federal agency (and its comparatively small budget) that is focused on helping election officials cope with these issues.
The title of this post is pretty clear, but I’ll repeat it here: we still need the EAC, maybe more than ever. At a time when so many questions are being asked about the country’s election system, it simply doesn’t make sense to do away with the one agency (and its people) central to helping states and localities get the answers.
(Doug Chapin is the founder and director emeritus of electionline. He is currently director of the Program for Excellence in Election Administration at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Chapin is a certified elections geek.)