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Senator Urges Republicans to Fill Election Commission Vacancies

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., today called on Republican leaders to recommend nominees for a federal election agency that sat without a single commissioner, executive director or general counsel as voters encountered long lines, machine malfunctions and other problems on Election Day.

Boxer urged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to take “immediate action” to fill the vacancies at the Election Assistance Commission by recommending names for the two open Republican commissioner positions after not doing so for nearly a year.

“I believe the dysfunction we witnessed may have been reduced had this commission been fully staffed and operational,” Boxer wrote in a letter.

The Election Assistance Commission was created when Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002 with broad bipartisan support. The federal agency, the first of its kind, was given more than $3 billion to dole out to states for improved election administration. It’s also supposed to be a repository of effective election processes, develop voluntary voting-system guidelines, set up procedures to certify laboratories that test voting equipment, and ensure that states are upgrading their voting technology.

The commission is overseen by two Democratic and two Republican commissioners, who are recommended by congressional leaders, nominated by the White House and confirmed by the Senate. Each party’s nominees are supposed to move through the process in tandem.

As Roll Call has reported, the commission has not had the quorum needed to conduct official business for nearly two years. Commissioners who left weren’t replaced. Congressional Republicans have called for its elimination when asked to confirm Democratic nominees or recommend Republican commissioners. Though Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., last year led a successful effort in the House to do away with the commission, the bill died in the Senate. The last time the Senate Rules and Administration Committee addressed the commission’s stalled nominees directly was in a June 2011 hearing.

Boxer said in a release accompanying her letter that the lack of commissioners “undermined” the role the existing agency could have otherwise played in ameliorating some of the problems voters dealt with at the polls.

“I hope that you will take immediate action to make these recommendations so that we can get the Election Assistance Commission working again, and let the American people know that the government is protecting their fundamental right to vote,” Boxer wrote in the letter.

Boxer is one of several Democrats who have called upon Congress to take an active role in improving election administration in recent days.

Last week, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., unveiled legislation that would establish a competitive grant program within the Justice Department to provide states with incentives to improve their voting processes. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., announced that he will introduce a measure to shorten wait times at polling places by requiring states to have early-voting periods of at least 15 days.

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