Election Assistance Commission May Be Closing

Posted April 13, 2011 at 6:38pm

Clarification Appended

House Republicans may have found a way to trim $14 million from the federal budget: eliminate the Election Assistance Commission.

The House Administration Committee is holding a hearing today to discuss closing the agency that is charged with administering federal election requirements and testing voting equipment. A corresponding Republican bill that would transfer most of the agency’s responsibilities to the Federal Election Commission may run into strong Democratic opposition.

Getting rid of the EAC would save millions and reduce government redundancy, according the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gregg Harper.

The EAC has “clearly served its purpose and is no longer essential to the administration of our elections,” the Mississippi Republican, chairman of the Subcommittee on Elections, said in a statement. “This is why I have introduced legislation to eliminate the Commission and transfer its remaining responsibilities and its authority to more appropriate and competent entities.”

But Minority Whip Steny Hoyer may have a thing or two to say about Harper’s plan as the first witness slated to testify at today’s hearing. Excerpts of the Maryland Democrat’s written testimony obtained by Roll Call show he will come out sharply against closing the EAC.

“Abolishing the EAC would be an invitation to repeat mistakes that blemished our democracy in 2000,” Hoyer says in the testimony. The EAC is important to Hoyer because he co-sponsored the law that created the EAC — the Help America Vote Act of 2002 — after the turmoil surrounding the presidential election recounts in 2000.

“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,” Hoyer’s draft testimony states.

“Especially now, with partisan polarization at historic highs and close elections more and more the norm, 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.”

The EAC has come under scrutiny in recent years as Congressional leaders have questioned its spending. Even the White House reduced its federal spending for the agency in its 2012 budget request as the Office of Management and Budget cut some of the agency’s grants.

Though the ultimate fate of the EAC rests with the passage of proposals, the agency says it is still working to fulfill its duties. “The Help America Vote Act gave us important work to do on behalf of voters and election officials,” EAC spokeswoman Jeannie Layson said. “Unless and until Congress tells us otherwise, we will continue to focus on our mission ­— improving federal elections.”

Harper’s bill has 18 other Republican co-sponsors. While the legislation has proponents and opponents in the House, it appears to have bipartisan support from the FEC. The agency wrote a letter last month to House Administration ranking member Robert Brady (D-Pa.) endorsing the idea of taking over some of the EAC’s responsibilities.

“Should Congress enact this bill and provide an appropriation that adequately reflects this change, we believe that the FEC could absorb the added functions and responsibilities, while continuing to fulfill our current mission successfully,” the FEC’s Democratic chairwoman, Cynthia Bauerly, wrote on behalf of the commission.

The letter went on to say that the FEC might use contracts with outside groups to fulfill aspects of the EAC’s responsibilities.

If passed, the legislation could create a small increase for the FEC’s existing budget and personnel, but the agency’s staff said it would not dramatically affect its operations. The EAC has a budget of about $18 million and employs 50 full-time workers, while the FEC has a $66.5 million budget and 375 workers.

Clarification: April 14, 2011

The Federal Election Commission has taken no formal position on the proposed legislation to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission.