Hearing on: “H.R. 672 – To Terminate the Election Assistance Commission ”
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ELECTIONS HEARING
Thursday, April 14, 2011
1310 Longworth House Office Building
Hearing on: “H.R. 672 – To Terminate the Election Assistance Commission ”
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Committee on House Administration
Statement by Ranking Minority Member Robert A. Brady
Thursday, April 14th 2011
“Hearing on HR 672, a bill to terminate the Election Assistance Commission”
I want to thank the Chairman for calling this very important hearing on H.R. 672. The legislation, if enacted, would terminate the Election Assistance Commission. The National Institute of Standards and Technology would become responsible for the voting system testing and certification programs now undertaken by the EAC. The agency’s other responsibilities would revert back to the Federal Election Commission. Both agencies have expressed hesitation in taking on these additional duties and I have included my correspondence with them in the record.
While I believe that there are certainly a multitude of opportunities for improvement at the EAC, I join with the many voter advocacy organizations and election officials who feel that the organization should be reformed, not eliminated.
The agency was created after the 2000 election to be a support mechanism for issues related to the administration of elections. As we are all aware, our representative form of government – the best in the world – brings with it inherent challenges for which we must remain diligent. From ensuring accurate voter registration lists, to the training of poll workers, to ensuring the proper functioning of voting equipment, the EAC’s duties are varied, and so are the challenges it faces. The EAC remains an important tool in addressing these issues and providing additional resources and support for our local election officials who serve as the backbone of our registration and voting system. These men and women are to be commended for their tireless commitment to what is often a thankless but fundamentally essential job.
Tangible progress has been made since the 2000 election. While much remains to be done, and the EAC has lagged behind many of our expectations and hopes, termination of the agency represents a tremendous step backward.
I am honored that one of the main authors of the Help America Vote Act is here today. He sat on this committee for a number of years and worked tirelessly to see the legislation become law.
I would also note that with the passage of HAVA, $3.9 billion was authorized to the states to improve the voting process, marking for the first time in our nation’s history that the Federal government has paid anything for the administration of Federal elections.
Historically, states have shouldered the entire burden of the cost of administering elections. With current and projected budget shortfalls, states and local municipalities have to decide on funding priorities. Should roads and infrastructure be improved, or should new voting equipment be purchased? The federal government as we all know is having a similar debate and there will not be any new money for HAVA in the near future. So the EAC needs to play a vital role in directing states on how to save money and use the money already in the fund most wisely.
While the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was a creation of Congress, the bulk of its services and guidance is intended to support and assist state and local election operations. As such, it is misguided and presumptuous for Congress to propose its termination unilaterally, without the input of the state and local election officials who rely on its resources in executing their most crucial functions.
In a Congressional Research Service report titled “How Local Election Officials View Elections Reform: Results of Three National Surveys,” most local election officials found the services provided by the EAC moderately important. [i] In the same survey, the degree to which election officials found the EAC helpful improved significantly in 2008, when compared to responses from a similar survey conducted in 2006. Comparing both surveys, we find that 65% of 2008 survey respondents found the EAC “Moderately helpful,” compared to 35% in 2006.[ii] And in 2008, the percentage of respondents who found the EAC less helpful dropped from 46% in 2006 to 18% in 2008.[iii] These trends suggest marked improvement in the functioning and/perception of the EAC, by those who works closest with it. It’s also important to note that we have yet to see the results of the 2010 survey, yet here we are, having a hearing on an opportunistic bill that was introduced in uncertain budgetary times under the guise of cutting costs.
Most of what the EAC does is advisory, providing guidance to state and local election boards to ensure fair and efficient elections. This is not someone’s pet project – it is a crucial, frontline effort to ensure the integrity of our elections system. I can think of very few, more worthwhile expenditures of taxpayer resources.
This is not to say, however, that the status quo can remain. We recognize the shortcomings and flaws of the EAC. But it is our responsibility to rectify them so that the agency may operate more effectively to fulfill the role with which it is charged. Complete abandonment of the EAC, a bipartisan creation, is not the answer.
We should not make such important decisions without first hearing from as many stakeholders as possible. At the very least we should consult the stakeholders that helped create it. Last month, we held a hearing on the EAC’s budget request and today we are having a hearing on the future of its very existence. And while I appreciate our witnesses’ testimony today, and the letters the Committee has received on behalf of the EAC, this information does not provide sufficient grounds upon which to make such an important determination. In our careful consideration of the future of the EAC, and the ways in which the agency should be reformed, we must have access to as much credible information as possible, inclusive of input from the men and women serving as election officials at the state and local level. They deserve to be heard in this discussion, the outcome of which has such far-reaching effects for the American people and the future of our elections.
My Republican counterparts and I seem to be in agreement over the importance of the functions of the EAC, as evidenced by Mr. Harper’s bill shifting these responsibilities to NIST and the FEC. Interestingly, both agencies have indicated that they are ill-equipped to assume these vital functions. In these lean economic times, mandating that an agency take on such important additional responsibilities absent a commitment of supplemental resources is questionable at best. It is even more distressing when the agencies in question have directly stated that assuming these additional functions will create an administrative and resource burden which they may be unable to overcome. The consolidation of these functions will conceivably impact the ability of NIST and the FEC to execute their existing mandate, while also negatively impacting the provision of resources and support currently undertaken by the EAC.
All of us are committed to finding ways to reduce government expenses and our stewardship of taxpayer resources will require significant sacrifice. But I don’t think any of us would support expense reductions that undermine the cornerstone of our system of government. Our ability to ensure that every eligible voter’s voice is heard cannot be undermined. I believe that this legislation does.
The Help America Vote Act, I believe, was the first time civil rights groups, disability groups, good government groups and elections officials came together with the common goal of fixing what was broken in the previous election cycle. The stakeholders that had a voice still have a voice, and we should listen. I hope as we move forward with this debate their voices are heard.
I said it at our last hearing, but it bears repeating: I hope that we can come together to discuss these topics because the act of voting is not a partisan issue – it is a fundamental aspect of our American system of government. I hope that will continue, and I look forward to hearing from all the witnesses.
The Honorable Steny Hoyer
5th Congressional District, Maryland
The Honorable Bill Gardner
New Hampshire Secretary of State
The Honorable Kurt Browning
Florida Secretary of State
The Honorable Delbert Hosemann
Mississippi Secretary of State
Ms. Jill LaVine
Registrar of Voters, County of Sacramento
Mr. John Fortier
American Enterprise Institute