[Image courtesy of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission]
On Friday. U.S. Representative Glenn Harper [R-MS] posted a press release on Facebook suggesting that the two remaining members of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission had resigned, leaving the agency with no members and rendering the EAC, in his words, a “ZOMBIE AGENCY.”
Harper, of course, is the sponsor of recent legislation to terminate the EAC, which was approved earlier this month in a largely party-line vote in the House.
If indeed the EAC is now empty (while the resignations aren’t yet public, I have no reason to doubt the reports are accurate) we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the EAC and its duties under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA).
There will be lots of opportunities to discuss the work of the EAC – and more importantly, what will happen to that work if the agency does indeed disappear – but as part of that discussion I think Congress as an institution needs to own its role in the birth and life of the EAC and what impact it might have had on the agency’s performance and potential demise.
The need for a new federal agency focused on election administration was an area of general consensus during the reform debate following the disputed 2000 election. The Carter-Ford Commission report – which served as a blueprint for Congress’ consideration of the legislation that became HAVA – explicitly called for such an agency as one of its recommendations (p.13).
In many ways, the agency that Congress created in HAVA resembled the consensus blueprint – charged with testing and certifying voting equipment, serving as an information clearinghouse and managing federal funding for election administration. Yet it also resembled the kind of federal body with which Congress could feel comfortable – commissioners nominated from lists approved by Congressional leadership, an even number of members with a majority requirement and subject to authorization and appropriations by Congress.
In more than nine years since HAVA’s enactment in October 2002, every single one of these Congressionally-mandated characteristics would end up being significant to the EAC’s ability (or not) to do its job. Congressional delays and disputes about appointments, appropriations and policy were a constant feature of the EAC’s existence and cannot be overlooked in any review of the agency’s record.
The current move to eliminate the EAC stems from frustration that the agency didn’t turn out the way Congress wanted; however, I think it’s fair to say that the EAC is exactly the agency that Congress designed. That’s worth remembering as we discuss what did (and didn’t) happen at the EAC and what will happen if and when it’s gone.