EAC Pick Likely to Move Fast

Posted July 26, 2005 at 6:34pm

Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson (R) has been named to fill the open seat on the Election Assistance Commission, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) indicated Tuesday that she may be confirmed before the end of the week.

The four-member panel is currently shy one commissioner after Republican appointee DeForest Soaries resigned his post in April. By law, House and Senate leaders suggest nominees to the president. And as Soaries occupied a GOP slot, the current vacancy is a Republican pick.

“Sen. Frist is proud to have Donetta Davidson serve on the Election Assistance Commission,” Frist spokeswoman Amy Call said in a statement. “She has been a champion for reducing voter fraud and promoting fair elections. We hope to confirm her in the Senate before the end of the week.”

Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.), whose committee has jurisdiction over the Help America Vote Act that created the EAC, said he did not expect Democrats to oppose her nomination. If Davidson is confirmed by the full Senate, she will serve the remainder of Soaries’ four-year term, which expires in December 2007.

In a statement issued late last week, Davidson said she was honored to be considered and would be spending the next few weeks preparing for her confirmation hearing. It’s unlikely such a hearing will be held, however.

Regardless, some involved in Colorado election issues are less than thrilled about her appointment. Like many battleground states in the previous presidential election, allegations of voting fraud and irregularities flew throughout the Centennial State both before and after the election. Davidson’s role was questioned by Democrats and outside voting groups, including allegations that she improperly purged voting rolls of current and former felons just weeks before the election. Another issue revolved around how and when election administrators were trained. Davidson has defended her actions, maintaining that the tagged registrations still allowed possible felons to cast a provisional ballot and that her office worked diligently to ensure a fair process.

At one point in the intense run up to the 2004 balloting, Davidson accused then-state Attorney General and now-Sen. Ken Salazar (D) of keeping her “out of the loop” on investigations into fraud, a charge Salazar’s office at the time said was entirely unfounded.

One self-identified Republican voting-rights advocate in the state said he doesn’t question Davidson’s intentions as much as her credentials. Al Kolwicz, executive director of Citizens for Accurate Mail Ballot Election Results, said he was “disappointed to see her nominated for a position on the EAC.”

While pointing out that he likes Davidson personally, Kolwicz said he thinks the EAC really needs someone with sophisticated technical expertise who understands the “highly complex technical decisions” the EAC must make.

Kolwicz, who says he has been involved in the Colorado electoral process for the past six years, asserts that one of the most disturbing outcomes during Davidson’s administration at the secretary of state’s office has been the lack of transparency in the process.

“We have a terrible track record of trying to get information from the secretary of state that is public information in Colorado,” Kolwicz said. “And the secretary has thrown up a web that basically prevents us from gaining access to the information needed to run an independent oversight of the elections themselves. We want to be able to check the results.”

In a statement, Davidson’s office maintained that she “has worked diligently with Colorado’s election officials to create legislation that strengthened and clarified Colorado election laws concerning voter registration drives, election official training, voter identification, provisional ballots and election time frames. If she is confirmed to serve as an EAC Commissioner, she plans to listen to the public’s concerns and do what she can to ensure that elections will continue to be safe, secure, open and fair.”

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.

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.

Soaries, one of the first four members of the EAC and its first chairman, cited personal reasons when he resigned this spring. But he also criticized Congress and the administration for not taking enough interest in election reform.