Election protection

Republican wish list: Axe election-protection commission

A House committee has just recommended [2/7/2017] that Congress terminate the Election Assistance Commission [EAC], the organization created in 2002 to protect elections from hacking and fraud. The vote occurred two days after President Trump promised to create a panel to investigate his allegations of election fraud.

The EAC was created as an independent commission by the Help America Vote Act [HAVA] in 2002, in the wake of the contentious Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election. EAC’s mission was to upgrade voting technology and provide election-related information to federal entities, state officials and election administrators.

So, on the one hand, Trump is calling for a commission to look into the alleged voter fraud that he believes cost him the popular vote [no mention of Russian hacking]. On the other, Republicans in Congress are pushing to eliminate an existing election-protection commission that could serve exactly that function.

The six Republicans on the House Administration Committee—the committee that is sending the bill, on a 6-3 party-line vote, to Congress—claim that their motivation is to eliminate government waste. If that’s true, they’ve picked an interesting place to start: The EAC is a rather obscure agency with about 30 employees. It’s a pretty lame rationale of course. Republicans have been trying to kill EAC for years. This time, with no one the White House to veto it, they may succeed.

Behind the scenes, Time reports, Trump’s claim that 3 to 5 million votes were cast illegally met with “discomfort” among Congressional Republicans. But, while top Republicans have refused to disavow his charges of election fraud, they haven’t pushed for action on the issue, which remains a low priority for congressional leadership.

Time further reports that,

In separate testimony on Capitol Hill, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly endorsed providing states “as much help as we can to make sure that their systems are protected in future elections.”

The bill was opposed by committee Democrats and voting rights groups, who argued that the federal agency plays a vital role in protecting elections from hacking and other types of interference.

“At a time when the vast majority of the country’s voting machines are outdated and in need of replacement, and after an election in which foreign criminals already tried to hack state voter registration systems, eliminating the EAC poses a risky and irresponsible threat to our election infrastructure,” said Wendy Weiser, the democracy program director at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Congress allotted nearly $3.3 billion to states and territories to support upgrading voting systems, and much of that money was placed into bank accounts where it gained interest. As of October 2015, the most recent date available, nearly $376 million remained unspent in dozens of states across the country.

As of today, the commission’s independent inspector general has not released audit reports for nine of a total of 55 states and territories, according to the EAC.

“Each day we hear from state and local election officials who need our help to navigate the challenges they face,” said EAC chair Thomas Hicks, in a statement. “We are focused on serving them and the American voters. Congress should remain a trusted partner in that effort.”

The Nation says:

This move is particularly worrisome given reports that suspected Russian hackers attempted to access voter-registration systems in more than 20 states during the 2016 election. Moreover, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration set up by President Obama in 2014 outlined an “impending crisis” in voting technology and the Brennan Center found that 42 states used voting machines in 2016 that were at least a decade-old and at risk of failing. The EAC was the agency tasked with making sure these voting systems were both modernized and secure.

This behind-the-scenes action—buried by the president’s twitter wars, and by the media chase to keep up with the latest White House misstep and/or nefarious executive order—belies a Republican priority that should be obvious and frightening: making it harder for Americans [who disagree with them] to vote.