Congressional Omnibus Spending Bill Includes Funds for EAC

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Even as the revived U.S. Election Assistance Commission has worked to re-establish itself as a valuable resource on election administration policy, there has been a nagging worry that Congressional doubts about the agency (which contributed to its lengthy hiatus) would somehow prevent it from getting the funds it needs to continue. Those worries were dispelled somewhat with news that funding for the agency is included in the new omnibus spending bill slated for passage this week. The Clarion-Ledger has more:

A spending deal that Congress is poised to pass this week will give the Election Assistance Commission $9.6 million next year to help states run elections, including congressional and presidential contests.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill released Wednesday ends the threat of a year-end government shutdown and will fund federal agencies through the rest of fiscal 2016 [September 30, 2017].

The funding was added at the request of the administration despite the opposition of longtime EAC foe, Rep. Gregg Harper of Mississippi:

Funding for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was included in the bill over objections by Rep. Gregg Harper and other Republicans who complain the commission has outlived its usefulness.

Harper, a member of the House Administration Committee, re-introduced a bill earlier this year to eliminate the agency.

“They’re trying to justify their own existence and it’s time for them to go,’’ he said Wednesday. “I’m sure there are some fine people who work there, but this is an agency that is no longer necessary.’’

He said an earlier House version of the omnibus spending bill included $4.8 million for the agency, half of what was included in the compromise released Wednesday. The compromise contains the amount requested by the administration.

“There are things each side likes and does not like when you have an omnibus,’’ Harper said.

While the EAC isn’t ready to comment until the bill is enacted into law (and given the agency’s history, who can blame them) they will have a full plate as the nation enters a presidential election year:

Commissioners have said pressing issues the EAC plans to tackle next include aging voting machines. The EAC launched a listening tour across the country earlier this year …

For years, the EAC operated without an executive director and lacked enough commissioners for a quorum. Three of the four commissioner slots are currently filled.

Last month, the agency hired Brian Newby, a former election commissioner from Kansas, as executive director. It also hired Cliff Tatum, former executive director of the District of Columbia Board of Elections, as general counsel.

EAC priorities for next year include conducting a state-by-state voting survey and serving as an information clearinghouse for local officials, according to the agency’s budget request.

Despite the omnibus, the battle over the EAC’s future will go on:

Voting rights groups say the agency should remain in place.

In a letter last month, Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, urged House committee leaders to continue funding the EAC, which he called “instrumental to protecting (voters’) rights.”

“At a time when voters in many jurisdictions must spend hours in line waiting to vote due to broken machines and undertrained workers, we need a fully funded EAC that will ensure that elections are run as effectively as possible in keeping with the HAVA standards,’’ Henderson wrote …

Harper said he plans to continue working to defund the agency.

“We will deal with it in the future,’’ he said. “This is still an agency that needs to be eliminated.’’

It’s good to see that the EAC can focus – at least for now – on doing its work in a challenging election year. Here’s hoping that their ongoing efforts to re-establish the agency’s value as policy resource for election officials across the country will make future funding discussions less fraught.

Stay tuned …

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