EAC and Support of State and Local Election Officials Targeted at House Administration Elections Subcommittee

Apr 14, 2011 Issues: Elections

Washington, DC (April 14, 2011): The Committee on House Administration today convened a hearing to discuss proposed legislation to terminate the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the bipartisan agency created by the Help America Vote Act and charged with providing resources and support to state and local election officials. 

Democratic and Republican witnesses both expressed concerns that the legislation, HR 672, sponsored by Elections Subcommittee Chairman Gregg Harper, would eliminate the EAC without providing a sufficient plan for the continuation of vital research, information sharing, and best practice dissemination currently undertaken and provided by the agency.

In his testimony before the Elections Subcommittee, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer – one of the chief architects of the Help America Vote Act – provided a clear case for the ongoing existence of the EAC: “The work of the EAC matters to voters, who deserve assurance that their votes will count on Election Day, and to poll workers, who, across the country, are being asked to do more with less and still ensure that polling places operate smoothly,” said Hoyer. “Abolishing the EAC would be an invitation to repeat mistakes that blemished our democracy in 2000,” Hoyer added.

“The debacle of the 2000 presidential election embarrassed the United States and showed just how flawed election systems were throughout the United States,” Hoyer continued. “Regardless of their feelings about the controversial outcome of that election, Republicans and Democrats alike agreed that the Federal government had a duty to step in and improve election systems and procedures so that every qualified citizen’s vote is counted: to provide states the financial and informational resources to upgrade their voting and registration systems, train their poll workers, and improve access for disabled voters.”

Elections Subcommittee Ranking Member Charles A. Gonzalez acknowledged the importance of fiscal responsibility while indicating that expenses aimed at ensuring the integrity of our election system should be a continuing priority.

“…I’m of the opinion that few things are more important in our country and more deserving of our support, including financial support, than ensuring that every American citizen’s right to vote is protected,” said Ranking Member Charles A. Gonzalez (D-TX). “But that doesn’t mean I’ll sit still while a single penny is wasted on an agency that isn’t helping to do that. So is EAC helping America to vote? The answer is Yes.”

Gonzalez continued to highlight the importance of involvement by state and local election officials in efforts to reform and better focus the efforts of the EAC.  This input has largely been absent from discussions centered on termination of the agency.

“It is the local election officials who are on the front lines, dealing directly with the voters and struggling to ensure that our elections, the very foundation of our democracy, run smoothly,” said Gonzalez. “And what do they have to say? At our last hearing, Susan Gill, the Supervisor of Elections of Citrus County, Florida, spoke glowingly of the EAC and how “the Help America Vote Act provided the continuity we” – that is, the country – “needed on the national level but left the states to devise how best to serve their voters.” I’ve never heard a better description of how our federal system is supposed to work. In fact, [House Administration] Chairman Lungren’s local election official, Ms. LaVine, speaks highly of the EAC in her written testimony.”

Several witnesses testified as to the value of the research and services EAC provides and expressed concerns about the fate of key functions should the EAC be terminated. John C. Fortier, a political scientist and research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who was identified by Majority Committee Member Todd Rokita as a “friendly witness”, expressed concern about the success of transitioning research and data collection functions to other agencies. “..there is significant danger that these issues will be lost if election administration functions are moved to the FEC and then essentially forgotten as the FEC pursues its other activities relating to the financing of campaigns,” said Fortier. “For this reason, my preference would be for a smaller and much more focused independent EAC that would engage in research, produce regular surveys and maintain a knowledge base that would help federal and state office holders and scholars.”

Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill LaVine pointed to the important role filled and resources provided by the EAC. “The EAC website is the best clearinghouse for information for election officials from all states,” said Lavine. “With the demand to do more with less, the EAC website is valuable in saving time researching and finding answers.”

Democratic Whip Hoyer summarized the debate over the future of the EAC in his closing remarks.

“The EAC has not been a perfect agency, and I am more than willing to work to reform it,” said Hoyer.“But to abolish the agency would be to demonstrate that Congress has failed to learn from the past—and we would, I fear, be condemned to repeat it. Especially now, with partisan polarization at historic highs and closely contested elections always a possibility, the last thing this nation needs are voting systems and procedures whose reliability causes the losing camp to question the integrity of the outcome. Americans need to know that whoever wins on Election Day won as a result of reliable voting systems and a fair vote.”

 

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