Posted by Henry Alderfer on May 22, 2014
FairVote has joined with a diverse coalition of 16 organizations to call on congressional leaders to take the necessary steps toward getting the embattled Election Assistance Commission (EAC) functioning again. Despite Senator Pat Roberts’s opinion to the contrary, the EAC remains a vital resource for states to research and improve election administration.
Last January, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration concluded its six-month review of election procedures and practices. The bipartisan commission, which was chaired by both President Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign counsels, released a 112-page report recommending steps to simplify voting in the United States.
Among other issues, the commission recognized an “impending crisis in voting technology.” The crisis the commission referred to relates to the rapidly diminishing shelf-life of most of the voting machines originally funded by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002. Congress enacted HAVA following the 2000 presidential election with the intent to remedy many of the issues present in that election.
The EAC was created by HAVA to administer a variety of important activities, among them certifying voting machines and providing guidelines on technology. While the EAC is empowered to update its guidelines on voting technology, it has not done so since 2005.
To put that in perspective: in 2005, the iPhone did not exist, “tweeting” had no meaning other than the sound of birds, and Netflix did not offer streaming video.
The reason for the EAC’s lack of momentum lies in the fact that it has not had a single commissioner since 2011, and has not had a quorum of three commissioners since 2010. Without such a quorum, the EAC cannot hold public meetings, issue advisory opinions, or adopt new policies (like voting system guidelines). As Stephen Spaulding of Common Cause noted, “[t]he absence of EAC commissioners is part of why so many jurisdictions ran the 2012 election with outdated, broken voting machines and why so many voters waited in line for hours to cast their ballots.”
Two Democratic nominees for the commission – Thomas Hicks and Myrna Pérez – have been awaiting confirmation by the Senate since 2010 and 2011, respectively. Both of these candidates have widespread bipartisan support. Recent reports have also indicated that Republicans have submitted a list of names to the White House for two Republican commissioners, yet there is no indication that the Senate will move to confirm a single Democratic or Republican nominee.
At least one House Member has called for the EAC to be eliminated entirely by sponsoring the unambiguously-titled “Election Assistance Commission Termination Act.” Sen. Pat Roberts, ranking member on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, publicly stated last December during a hearing for Hicks’s and Perez’s nominations that the EAC “has fulfilled its purpose and should be eliminated.”
The EAC, however, continues to serve a vital purpose in American governance. By studying and creating guidelines for election administration, testing and certifying voting equipment, administering grants to the states to comply with modern voting administration and technology, and serving as a clearinghouse among election officials of “best practices” in managing elections, the EAC can serve as a dynamic resource for states to update their election procedures and resources. However, the EAC can do so only with a quorum of commissioners. It is the Senate’s duty to uphold the law and confirm appointed commissioners like Hicks and Pérez without undue delay.
While filling the EAC’s empty seats will not solve all of the problems in election administration, it will serve as a substantial step in safeguarding every voter’s ability to effectively and efficiently participate in state and federal elections. That is why we are proud to have signed on to the letter to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee calling on them get to the EAC back in a position to help America vote.