Even After Return, Congressional Opposition to EAC Continues

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[Screenshot image from congress.gov]

Even as many in the election world were celebrating last week’s return of the Election Assistance Commission, there is still a move underway on Capitol Hill to do away with the agency completely. Gannett’s Deborah Berry has more:

The federal agency that helps states improve their election systems is warning that aging voting machines could create problems in next year’s presidential election.

Many of the machines were purchased more than a decade ago, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

“It’s a big concern not just for us, but (for) state and local officials who are running these elections,” said Christy McCormick, new chairwoman of the independent, bipartisan commission. “Hopefully, they can prevent any major problems in 2016, but it’s going to be a challenge.”

It’s one of several issues the EAC plans to highlight as it ramps up operations after four years without enough commissioners for a quorum. The commission held a public hearing Tuesday to discuss its plans, and recently kicked off a listening tour to hear from local election officials and advocates.

The burst of new activity has done nothing to dissuade critics of the EAC on Capitol Hill and their allies, however:

If Republicans have their way, the commission’s sense of purpose won’t last long. Led by 3rd District U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi, the party is on a mission to eliminate the EAC, saying it has outlived its usefulness.

“It’s time for it to be put out of its misery,” Harper said.

Last month, Harper reintroduced his Election Assistance Commission Termination Act [H.R. 195], his fourth attempt to shut down the agency, which has a $10 million annual budget. The measure has passed the House twice but was never introduced in the Senate.

Harper said the bill stands a better chance this year, now that Republicans have taken control of the Senate and have expanded their majority in the House.

“The fact that they couldn’t conduct any official business for almost five years and they weren’t missed or noticed should tell us that it’s okay to let this one go,” he said of the EAC…

The EAC’s critics say some of its functions, including accrediting labs to test voting systems, can be done by outside experts. They agree with Harper that the commission wasn’t missed during the time it was without a quorum.

“That’s how important an agency it is,” said Hans A. von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation.

It will be interesting to see if these Congressional efforts to dismantle the EAC gain any steam in Congress, now that the agency is back in business and already moving quickly to catch up on everything it missed over the last several years – including accrediting testing labs and updating voting system standards in order to address concerns about aging voting technology nationwide.

Still, this story is a useful reminder that the idea of a federal agency overseeing election administration – even one with limited regulatory powers – does not enjoy unanimous support on Capitol Hill. Whether or not a bill like H.R. 195 goes anywhere, it does suggest that the EAC’s activity will be closely scrutinized by federal lawmakers going forward.

Stay tuned.

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