“The Importance of Their Middle Name”: electionlineWeekly on the Future of the EAC

[Image via eac]

You’ve read a lot on this blog lately about the future of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, but my friend and colleague Mindy Moretti has a fresh take in the latest electionlineWeekly. Indeed, she finds that there is widespread support for the agency across the election community:

Like Sisyphus and his rock, Mississippi Congressman Gregg Harper has once again introduced a resolution to dissolve the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC).

Under H.R. 634, the EAC would terminate 60-days after the enactment of the resolution. Some functions of the Commission would transfer to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The bill was introduced on Jan. 24 and approved by a 6-3 party line vote in the House Administration Committee.

In a statement, Harper says that the existence of the EAC is not necessary to conduct federal elections is a “waste of taxpayer funds.”

Despite Harper’s insistence that the Commission has run its course of usefulness, bipartisan support for the EAC remains.

“In the days leading up to the mark-up and in the days since, we’ve receive notes from election officials and voters across the nation thanking us for our work and validating the important role we play,” said EAC Chairman Thomas Hicks. “We’ve also received widespread, bipartisan support from advocacy groups within the beltway and beyond. Anyone with questions about our value should speak directly with the election officials and voters we serve.”

One of those supporting the continued existence is Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams (R). Williams, who has been in office since 2014, says that the EAC in its current incarnation has been extremely helpful to his office.

“The EAC in its present incarnation, and I can’t speak to the old incarnation, they understand their role as an advisory body,” Williams said. “They’ve been very responsive. They reach out to the states. They show up. They listen. And that’s not been my experience with any other federal agencies and so I guess this seems to be the one that is actually working right now and so I would much rather have concentrate efforts on fixing or eliminating agencies that don’t work than those do.”

Williams stressed the work the EAC is doing to certify testing labs and establish standards is incredibly beneficial to secretaries of state as many are navigating new voting systems and a changing electorate.

“The integrity of the election process is not a partisan issue and that’s true whether the secretary of state is a Republican or Democrat,” Williams said. “I believe the EAC is trying to ensure the election process works well.”

Williams said he does not support folding portions of the current EAC into the FEC because the FEC is too political.

“I do not favor nationalizing elections. And in fact, I strongly oppose that, but I don’t see the EAC as doing that because of the nature of their task and role,” Williams said. “I am less confident in other bodies. The FEC for example has not shown itself historically to be a body that works together for the benefit of elections processes. Has tended to be a body that has a very partisan bent that’d why transferring all the functions to the FEC makes no sense.”

But not all of Williams’ counterparts are as enthusiastic. By a 16-12 vote, in 2015, the National Association of Secretaries of State reaffirmed an earlier position on eliminating the EAC. NASS is currently holding its winter conference in Washington, D.C. and while the status of the EAC is not on the agenda, Leslie Reynolds with NASS said that it could come up, although nothing is planned.

However, the tide may be turning. In 2015, Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler (R), who was then president of NASS, was one of the Yes votes to support eliminating the EAC. Now, he is now on the record saying that he would support the EAC remaining.

“I kind of like what I see now,” Schedler told USAToday. “And I’m willing to take a look-see attitude.”

Electionline reached out to several organizations-NIST, FVAP, etc. who would be impacted by the dissolution of the EAC, but they were unable to comment on pending legislation.

And while the debate continues on Capitol Hill and in the states about whether or not the EAC remains relevant, the Commission is continuing to do the work it was tasked to do.

“The stakes are high for all election officials right now. They face incredible and unique pressures, and we know that the EAC’s support is needed now more than ever before,” Hicks said. “Each day we work to better serve election officials and voters. There’s no time for complacency or ‘business as usual.’ Election administrators need support and resources more now than ever, and the EAC is here to assist them.”

The EAC is currently working to prepare for next year’s midterm elections and that effort will be largely informed by the 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) which is slated for release at the end of June. This spring the EAC will debut a new website that will feature a cutting-edge, user-friendly design. The site will also become the new permanent home for the popular tools and guidance stemming from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA).

For his part, Williams said that he plans to speak with the Colorado congressional delegation when he’s in D.C. this week and hopes that his colleagues will consider doing their part to encourage the continuation of the EAC.

“I think it is important to look at reality vs. rhetoric,” Williams said. “And in this case the reality is that the EAC, with its present commission has been doing a good job in providing assistance and support. They have recognized the importance of their middle name.” [emphasis added]

I think SoS Williams’ last point is illuminating: while Congressional foes see an agency that has outlived many aspects of the role with which it was tasked by HAVA, the agency has evolved into a key set of eyes and ears (along with a voice) in Washington, DC. That’s vitally important to a community for whom no one national organization exists. I have no doubt that there are still those policymakers who see the EAC as obsolete and/or a federal overreach – but many others see the assistance the agency provides and hope it remains.

Mindy’s piece provides an important perspective on the current debate over the EAC – a topic I and others will be watching closely in the weeks to come.

Stay tuned!

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