Newby on What’s Next in Election Administration post-PCEA (Hint: It Doesn’t Likely Include the EAC)


[Image courtesy of AP via Forbes]

Last night, a year after launching the Presidential Commission on Election Administration – and about a week after receiving its report – President Obama made a quick but significant reference to its work in his State of the Union Address:

[T]he bipartisan commission I appointed, chaired by my campaign lawyer and Governor Romney’s campaign lawyer, came together and have offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote. Let’s support these efforts.

Early indications are that the Commission wants to keep going, as well; in public events and private conversations, members have said that they want this commission to yield “a project, not just a report” – meaning that they expect and welcome more work on the topics included in their recommendations.

What will that look like on the ground in the field of election administration? Brian Newby has some thoughts in his latest post at ElectionDiary:

As an election administrator, I’m thrilled with the findings and recommendations, but I’ve sat in many of the discussions with the Commission and watched the videos of those meetings I missed. The report often reflects what me and my colleagues have been saying for years, but now those concerns are in a very good, crisp report with recommendations.

How the report gets used, though, remains to be seen.

His initial takeaway, it seems, is that the Outlook [i]sn’t brilliant for the Election Assistance Commission:

First, I really thought the report would put a stake in the ground on the need for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to be fully staffed with four Commissioners. There are no Commissioners right now and the EAC’s future seems more uncertain now that we have this report, if that is even possible.

There are many ways to analyze this, but in retrospect this shouldn’t have been surprising at all. If the EAC was a player, the EAC would have been tasked with this election administration study in the first place. It’s a Commission that was created to improve the voter experience, in federal legislation signed by a United States president…

[But] doing a word search in the report for “Election Assistance Commission” only reveals one mention before the end notes. “EAC” is used more often, but always in descriptors of what has been done, not what it can do in the future.

I know there are some logical reasons to think differently, but I think it’s pretty clear that the EAC is now a “was.”

Brian, like me, is planning to mine the PCEA report for more ideas going forward – but I share his view that the Commission’s report likely means that the prognosis for the EAC isn’t good; indeed, renewing the fierce partisan battle in Congress about the agency’s future could siphon off what (let’s be honest, little) momentum might exist to address other recommendations in the PCEA report.

I think this observation from Brian is especially good:

If this were a business environment, the [EAC] would be ripe for a takeover, where assets could be obtained on the cheap and be reconstituted into a more powerful machine. As it is, it feels unfair to all involved to neither invest in nor wind down the EAC.

In short, it appears that the PCEA recognizes that the parties have agreed to disagree about the EAC … which probably means that the agency will stay on the sidelines as the recommendations of the PCEA are implemented across the nation.

Thanks, as always, to Brian for his insights – I look forward to his analysis in future posts!

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