It's back, baby! - The Election Assistance Commission

Posted by Allegra Chapman on December 17, 2014

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Remember the EAC?  If so, you’re probably either an election wonk or possessed of an exceptionally good memory.  

Formed in 2000 by the Help America Vote Act, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was put in place to avoid another Florida-style debacle – the kind where the words “hanging chads” reverberated in Americans’ minds well past the presidential election.

But the commission hasn’t been operational for the past few years, shut down by the Senate’s refusal or inability to confirm new commissioners. It was revived last night when senators confirmed nominees to fill three of its four seats. In a Congress where dead-lock has been the name of the game, this is terrific news for voters and states alike.

We at Common Cause have been dedicated to reviving the agency for the past couple of years, writing and organizing a letter signed by 35 advocacy groups calling for up-or-down votes on the EAC nominees, meeting with Senate staffers to push the issue, and stressing its importance to the White House.  Advocacy organizations across the country also beat the drum and the combined efforts of groups and concerned citizens secured the victory.

In 2012, during his Election Night victory speech, President Obama called attention to system breakdowns and long lines at hundreds of polling places and declared that “we have to fix that.”  Shortly thereafter, he created a bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which after a series of public hearings and meetings with experts issued 19 recommendations on how to improve elections administration and shorten those wrapped-around-blocks lines.  

The PCEA, co-chaired by the general counsels of the Obama and Romney 2012 campaigns, warned of “an impending crisis in voting technology,” and also wrote this year that “the standard-setting process for new voting machines has broken down … due to a lack of [EAC] commissioners. … Without a fully functioning EAC to adopt new standards, many new technologies that might better serve local election administrators are not being brought to the marketplace.”

Elections administrators and secretaries of states – in both red and blue states – have asked for the agency’s return so they can get on with the business of running elections. 

Our recent report, Did We Fix That, urged Congress to act swiftly on EAC nominees to ensure dissemination of uniform guidelines on machines and software, especially because some state officials aren’t as familiar as others with the technology.  With a functioning EAC, voters can feel more confident that elections in the states will run smoothly, with machines in their precincts up to date and running. That should bring Election Day closer to the American ideal of each citizen “making a difference.”

There’s still more to do however.  Lots more.  Since the Shelby Co. v. Holder decision in 2013, in which the Supreme Court gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act, a number of states have cut back on strong electoral reforms or imposed new restrictions on access to the ballot box.  As citizens’ faith in their government and the promise of an American dream wanes, it’s more important than ever to ensure our elections are accessible to all – not limited to those who traditionally have been protected by the system.

With the Senate’s confirmation of EAC nominees, our federal government has brought elections one step closer to being run appropriately, with every eligible citizen afforded the right to cast a ballot fairly.  Let’s build on that momentum to ensure that every election is free, fair, and accessible.  Sign our petition to contact your representatives and say, “thank you!  Thank you for helping my vote count!  And please get to work in January to help us pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act, a law that would put the muscle back in voting rights enforcement, and the Democracy Restoration Act, which would assure all citizens the right to vote upon completion of prison sentences.

Common Cause heartily congratulates the three new commissioners – Thomas Hicks, a former Common Cause staffer; Matthew Masterson, deputy chief of staff in the Ohio Secretary of State’s office; and Christy McCormick, a trial lawyer in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.  Hicks’ nomination had been pending since 2010; Masterson and McCormick were nominated earlier this year. We look forward to your good – and long overdue – work!  The states and voters will thank you. 

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Registration and Voting Systems

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