ONE WOULD imagine that, with President Trump and other Republicans questioning the integrity of the nation’s election systems, Congress would create an agency to help state and local officials run clean and efficient polls. In fact, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) already exists. At least for the moment: Despite all the GOP rhetoric about flawed elections, a GOP House committee voted along party lines last week to kill the commission.
Created in response to the 2000 presidential election’s recount controversy, the EAC has since diligently provided grants and other aid to state and local election officials to help them improve often archaic voting equipment and procedures.
But House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) argues that the EAC has outlived its usefulness, because it has finished distributing the funds that the 2002 Help America Vote Act set aside to help local election officials modernize. Republicans also point out that the National Association of Secretaries of State — representing chief state election officials across the country — has long called for dissolving the EAC.
They are wrong, and it is a bad idea. The EAC does more than simply distribute grant funding. It performs a variety of small but important tasks, such as testing and certifying voting equipment, which help states pick reliable machines; formatting voter registration forms; and translating voter instructions into various languages. It is a vital clearinghouse for information about common election problems and effective ways they have been addressed. With lots of voting equipment requiring replacement across the country, these functions are as essential as ever.
EAC critics nevertheless argue that anything of value the agency still does can be transferred to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). In fact, the EAC does much more of value than they appear to acknowledge, and the FEC is a deeply dysfunctional agency focused on addressing much bigger issues than voter form formatting.
The EAC performs its work, meanwhile, on a meager $10 million budget. State secretaries of state are divided on whether to keep it, but concerns among red state officials that the EAC exists to federalize election administration have not been borne out. In other words, this is not a federal agency gobbling up resources or screaming for reform.
The House’s EAC bill is just another instance in which Republicans have acted based on a warped view of what is wrong with U.S. elections. As study after study has shown, fraud is not a major problem. Access to the ballot box — whether inhibited by discriminatory voting laws or long lines and malfunctioning equipment — is. If anything, Congress should give the EAC more support to help states tackle these real issues.
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