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The Election Assistance Commission appointed its first permanent executive director last week: Thomas Wilkey, who will take over the post effective June 20.

Wilkey, currently the chairman of the National Association of State Election Directors’ Voting Systems Board, has worked in election administration for 34 years.

The EAC was created in 2002 by the Help America Vote Act to oversee improvements to election administration. Because of a slow nomination and confirmation process, the commission began operations only in January 2004. Its first-year budget was about $2 million, an amount small enough that it slowed the hiring process for several critical positions. The agency now has about $14 million to cover its own operations.

Last October, the EAC appointed Carol Paquette to a six-month term as interim executive director. Just prior to that, Juliet Thompson was named general counsel.

Both Wilkey’s and Thompson’s positions have four-year terms.

Wilkey previously served as the executive director of the New York State Board of Elections, a post he held from 1992 to 2003. He also served as president of NASED and was one of its founding members.

“Tom Wilkey has first-hand knowledge of every aspect of election administration,” said EAC Chairwoman Gracia Hillman. “He understands the importance of making sure every vote counts, but he also knows the challenges state and local election officials face trying to meet that goal.

In addition to overseeing the day-to-day operations of the commission, Wilkey’s job will also include finding an inspector general. A spokeswoman said the agency is exploring the option of contracting with another federal agency.

The EAC is charged with administering payments to states to meet HAVA requirements, implementing election administration improvements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and serving as a national clearinghouse and resource of information regarding election administration.

Former EAC Chairman DeForest Soaries, one of the first four members of the Election Assistance Commission and its first chairman, resigned last month. The Republican appointee cited personal reasons for his departure but also criticized Congress and the administration for not taking enough interest in election reform and underfunding the agency. A successor to Soaries has not been named. The House GOP leadership is supposed to submit names to the president, who in turn nominates an appointee to be confirmed by the Senate.

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