Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

Chads vs. zombies?

It looks as if critics of an organization created to help avoid hanging-chad debacles and other voting issues are having their way, and the Election Assistance Commission seems to be turning into a zombie organization: still standing, but sapped of life.

And it’s just in time, of course, for the very event the organization was designed to handle — Election Day!

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.

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The EAC, created in response to the voting-system meltdown during the 2000 presidential election, is leaderless. All four commissioner spots are vacant, and it hasn’t had an executive director since last year.

The resignation of Tom Wilkey from the job in late 2011 left the organization’s general counsel, Mark Robbins, holding the reins. But Robbins was confirmed for a position on the Merit Systems Protection Board earlier this year.

While the group is still plugging away, it suspended the work of its standards board and board of advisers because no one has the authority to make decisions.

“As the EAC works to meet its basic statutory responsibilities under significant budget reductions and the prospect of elimination, it would make little sense to spend money convening boards unable to engage in policy work,” Robbins wrote in a memo before he left.

The EAC hasn’t held a public meeting since 2011 — something it needs commissioners to do. And it can’t select an executive director without them, either. A spokesman responded to the Loop’s inquiries with an e-mail stating that “we are working to serve our mission according to the policies in place that were established earlier by the commissioners.”

The commission certifies election systems and shares best practices of conducting elections, which are kind of a big deal this year, considering how tight many races are around the country this election cycle — raising the odds of lawsuits over voting procedures.

But the EAC’s critics say it has outlived its usefulness after distributing federal money to states to replace outdated voting equipment. And a Republican-backed bill to kill it outright passed the House.

And so word of the organization’s paralysis is welcome news in some quarters.

A zombie commission might be just what they want.

140-letter accountability

There’s an old joke among Washington’s geekier set: The Government Accountability Office doesn’t issue reports; the reports escape.

Translation: It’s an obscure agency. Get it?

But the notoriously publicity-averse agency — which performs audits and research for Congress — is attempting to leap into the national conversation. On Tuesday, it’s unveiling an initiative aimed at injecting all that fun data and analysis that it generates into the Twittersphere, an arena that could probably benefit from fewer links to cat videos and more, to say, comprehensive, 61-page treatises on food recalls.

“News breaks all the time, and conversations spring up online to discuss the topics in play. In many cases GAO has conducted work on the very issues being discussed — work that could add significant value to these conversations,” Chuck Young, director of the GAO’s office of public affairs, wrote in an internal announcement of the initiative, jazzily dubbed “GAO Plugged In.” (Never mind that much tweeting is done from wireless devices.)

The way the higher-ups envision it will work is that if an analyst notices a big story in the media that’s related to a recent GAO report, he or she is “empowered” to suggest a tweet to the office of public affairs. The PR mavens will review and approve the message, then send it out.

Adding a little fact-driven GAO gravitas to the discussion du jour isn’t a bad idea, but it is prompting a few laughs about how the new effort will jibe with the organization’s traditionally lumbering pace.

“Since GAO is so timely in getting reports out, there should be very little difficulty in submitting, reviewing, approving, and disseminating tweets,” one source deadpanned.

Women in black

The White House hailed the Senate’s confirmation Monday of Iowa federal prosecutor Stephanie Rose to a U.S. District Court judgeship in that state, adding that President Obama has appointed 72 women to the federal bench — the same number appointed in two terms by President George W. Bush.

We generally only count Article III — lifetime appointment — federal judges, so our numbers, which don’t include territorial judges from the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam, for example, would show Obama at 70 female judges to Bush’s 71.

But let’s not quibble. About 43 percent of Obama’s judicial appointments have been women, an all-time high. Only 22 percent of Bush’s appointees to the bench were women, and only 29 percent of President Bill Clinton’s.

In any event, there’s a very good chance that, in the lame-duck session after the election, with a bit of Senate cooperation, Obama could match Bush’s eight-year total.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

 
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