Government Agency

United States Election Assistance Commission

The United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is an independent federal agency created to report on election administration procedures and provide resources to election officials. [1] The Commission was established under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, which was passed to address issues in voting procedures that emerged during the 2000 election. [2]

The EAC has four commissioner positions. By law, the makeup of the Commission must not favor one political party, but the EAC was understaffed and had commissioner vacancies for many years, only returning to four commissioners in 2019. [3] [4] The Commission has been accused of discriminating against a Republican nominee and distributing taxpayer funds to a public relations firm connected to the Democratic Party. [5][6]

Background

Several issues emerged during the vote counting process following the 2000 presidential election. The automatic recount in the state of Florida, triggered by a lead of less than half a percentage point, spurred lawsuits from the campaigns of both then-Republican candidate George W. Bush and then-Democratic candidate Al Gore. News media reported contradictory exit polling numbers. Gore conceded, then retracted his concession. Eventually, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Florida had to halt its complicated recount process, declaring former President Bush the winner. [7]

In 2002, Congress passed HAVA, which established the Election Assistance Commission. The Commission was tasked with testing and certifying voting equipment, implementing national voter registration procedures, and maintaining a collection of best practices for elections officials and information for voters. The existing Federal Election Commission (FEC) was already responsible for some of these functions, but Congress transferred responsibility for implementation of the functions to the newly-formed EAC. [8]

Structure

The Election Assistance Commission is intended to have four commissioners appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. No more than two commissioners can be from the same political party. Commissioners can serve up to two consecutive terms, though they may continue to serve past their term limit if no successor has been identified. [9]

In practice, successive presidential administrations have neglected to staff the EAC. In 2011, all four commissioner positions were vacant. Between 2009 and 2014, the Commission’s budget decreased from just under $18 million to just over $11 million, and the number of full-time staff dropped from 43 to 29. [10] The Obama administration successfully nominated two commissioners in January 2015, but the other two positions remained empty until the Trump administration successfully confirmed two more nominees in February 2019. [11]

Before the creation of the EAC, the FEC was the primary federal agency overseeing American elections. In 2002, the newly-created EAC assumed some of the FEC’s responsibilities. [12] In 2013, the Obama administration launched an effort intended to streamline elections processes and improve voter access to the polls. Rather than task the EAC with this mission, however, President Obama created the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. This commission disbanded after producing a report. [13]

Initiatives

The EAC publishes resources for elections officials with the stated goal of improving election integrity and security. One of its documents, a glossary of election terminology, relies on input from the Democracy Fund, a left-of-center foundation chaired by philanthropist and major Democratic Party donor Pierre Omidyar. The Commission also provides a cybersecurity training course in partnership with the Center for Tech and Civic Life, an electoral advocacy organization which pushes for left-of-center voting policies.

Leadership

Staff

Mona Harrington is the executive director of the EAC. She assumed the role in an acting capacity in October 2019. She previously served as the Commission’s Chief Information and Security Officer. [14]

Kevin Rayburn is the general counsel of the EAC. He also works with the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Center for Election Innovation and Research, both center-left advocacy groups. Rayburn previously served as the Assistant Director and Counsel for the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office. [15]

Commissioners

Donald Palmer is the chairman of the EAC. He was nominated by former President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in January 2019. He is a former fellow at the left-of-center Bipartisan Policy Center and previously served as Secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections. [16]

Thomas Hicks is the vice chairman of the EAC, and he previously served two terms as chairman. He was nominated by former President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in December 2014. He previously worked as a senior lobbyist and policy analyst for the left-of-center policy advocacy group Common Cause. Hicks also served as a legislative assistant at the Office of Personnel Management under the Clinton administration. [17]

Christy McCormick was nominated by President Obama and confirmed to the EAC in December 2014. McCormick also served as chairwoman from 2015 to 2016. McCormick previously served as a senior trial attorney at the Department of Justice (DOJ). She also served as Acting Deputy Rule of Law Coordinator at the Office of the Rule of Law Coordinator at the United States embassy in Baghdad, Iraq from 2009 to 2010. [18]

Benjamin Hovland was nominated by President Trump and confirmed in January 2019. He previously served as the Deputy General Counsel at the office of the Missouri Secretary of State. He also worked for the left-of-center Fair Elections Legal Network, now the Fair Elections Center, where he participated in litigation to prevent the state of Florida from removing invalid voter registrations from voter rolls. [19]

Controversies

In December 2009, the federal employee news source FedWeek reported that the EAC had reached a settlement involving a “substantial monetary sum” with a past Commission nominee who had been rejected because he was a Republican. The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates unethical actions by federal agencies against their employees, determined that the Commission had broken the law by refusing to approve the nominee because of his political affiliation. [20]

Left-of-center investigative journalism organizations have criticized the EAC for allegedly failing to fulfill its responsibilities. In 2013 and 2014, the Center for Public Integrity reported on congressional efforts to review or eliminate the Commission. The Center described EAC as being “marked by leadership vacuums and little sense of purpose.” [21] Following the 2018 midterm elections, the left-of-center investigative journalism organization ProPublica published a report criticizing what it perceived as a lack of attention to election security from the Commission. The report claimed that EAC was not taking alleged foreign threats to American election security seriously. In particular, ProPublica criticized Commission member Christy McCormick for downplaying allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. ProPublica also reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had assumed some of EAC’s responsibilities, but called use of the DHS for election support “controversial” because of the Department’s other responsibilities, which include immigration enforcement. [22]

In March 2021, The Hill reported that several Republican leaders in the House of Representatives were investigating the EAC for awarding $35 million in voter education funds to SKD Knickerbocker, a public relations firm with extensive ties to the Democratic Party. The firm had previously stated that it was “proud to be a part of Team Biden” and its managing director was a senior strategist on the Biden 2020 campaign. House Oversight and Reform Committee member James Comer (R-KY) called the contract “highly questionable.” [23] Rep. Comer also called on EAC Inspector General Patricia Layfield to investigate former California Secretary of State and U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) for awarding Commission funds to SKD in a no-bid contract. [24]

References

  1. U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/ ^
  2. “Help America Vote Act.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about_the_eac/help_america_vote_act.aspx ^
  3.        “EAC’s Commissioners.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about_the_eac/commissioners.aspx ^
  4.              “EAC’s Commissioners.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021.https://www.eac.gov/about_the_eac/commissioners.aspx ^
  5.        “Election Assistance Commission Settles Political Discrimination Issue.” FedWeek. December 14, 2009. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.fedweek.com/federal-managers-daily-report/election-assistance-commission-settles-political-discrimination-issue/ ^
  6.       Maggie Miller. “House Republicans examine federal election funds awarded to Biden-linked firm.” The Hill. March 18, 2021. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/543829-house-republicans-question-awarding-of-federal-election-funds-to-biden ^
  7.            “Bush v. Gore.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/event/Bush-v-Gore ^
  8. “Help America Vote Act.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about_the_eac/help_america_vote_act.aspx ^
  9. “EAC’s Commissioners.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about_the_eac/commissioners.aspx ^
  10.             Dave Levinthal. “Kill The Election Assistance Commission?” Center for Public Integrity. May 12, 2014. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://publicintegrity.org/politics/kill-the-election-assistance-commission/ ^
  11.        “EAC’s Commissioners.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about_the_eac/commissioners.aspx ^
  12.        “Help America Vote Act.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about_the_eac/help_america_vote_act.aspx ^
  13.       Dave Levinthal. “Kill The Election Assistance Commission?” Center for Public Integrity. May 12, 2014. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://publicintegrity.org/politics/kill-the-election-assistance-commission/ ^
  14.            “Mona Harrington.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about/staff-directory/mona-harrington ^
  15.              “Kevin Rayburn.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about/staff-directory/kevin-rayburn ^
  16.        “Commissioner Donald Palmer.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about/commissioner-donald-palmer ^
  17.            “Commissioner Thomas Hicks.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about/commissioner-thomas-hicks ^
  18.        “Commissioner Christy McCormick.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about/commissioner-christy-mccormick ^
  19.           “Commissioner Benjamin Hovland.” U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.eac.gov/about/commissioner-benjamin-hovland ^
  20.        “Election Assistance Commission Settles Political Discrimination Issue.” FedWeek. December 14, 2009. Accessed March 18, 2021.

    Election Assistance Commission Settles Political Discrimination Issue

    ^

  21.        Dave Levinthal. “Kill The Election Assistance Commission?” Center for Public Integrity. May 12, 2014. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://publicintegrity.org/politics/kill-the-election-assistance-commission/ ^
  22.        Jessica Huseman. “How the Election Assistance Commission Came Not to Care So Much About Election Security.” ProPublica. November 5, 2018. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.propublica.org/article/election-assistance-commission-came-not-to-care-so-much-about-election-security ^
  23.              Maggie Miller. “House Republicans examine federal election funds awarded to Biden-linked firm.” The Hill. March 18, 2021. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/543829-house-republicans-question-awarding-of-federal-election-funds-to-biden ^
  24.        “Republicans urge Inspector General to provide immediate investigative update given potential Padilla appointment to the U.S. Senate.” James Comer, Representing Kentucky’s 1st District. December 18, 2020. Accessed March 18, 2021. https://comer.house.gov/2020/12/comer-davis-hice-raise-concerns-about-padilla-misusing-federal-funds-benefit ^
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