An independent bipartisan commission responsible for assisting states in complying with the mandatory minimum standards and reforms set forth in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is charged with creating voluntary voting system guidelines, accrediting voting system test laboratories, and certifying voting equipment, thereby operating the federal government’s first voting system certification program. In addition, EAC is mandated to monitor the spending of the $3.1 billion Congressional appropriations it disbursed to states, per the direction of HAVA, to aid state and local governments with the administration of elections for federal offices. It is also responsible for serving as a national clearinghouse of information about administering elections, and for conducting ongoing public studies, to help assure the methods of voting being proposed are as secure, accurate, accessible, and efficient as possible.
EAC has often been under scrutiny, with questions being raised by individuals, organizations, members of Congress, and the media about the integrity of how it operates. Among the criticisms: That EAC has responded to political pressure from the Republican Party and the Department of Justice to overstate alleged problems of voter fraud, to justify voter identification laws Democrats believe disenfranchise the poor, members of minority groups, and the elderly, who are less likely to have photo IDs, and more likely to be Democrats. (See Controversies)
In recent years Congressional leaders have questioned EAC spending, and the White House reduced its budget appropriations from the FY 2011 level. House Republicans have attempted to abolish the EAC and transfer many of its responsibilities to the Federal Election Commission.
In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act was passed by Congress, to address voting system and access problems that were identified during and after the controversial 2000 Presidential election. The creation of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was authorized by HAVA to be a four-person Commission made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. HAVA charged EAC with the duties of helping states meet the new voting standards and reforms established when the Act passed, and distributing and overseeing the use of HAVA funds to those states for assistance in carrying out the regulations. HAVA also directed EAC to create new guidelines for testing voting equipment, as well as a way to test and certify voting systems against those guidelines, and to become a national clearinghouse for election administration information.
In addition, it charged EAC with establishing a 110-member Standards Board and 37-member Board of Advisors, to offer guidance on reviewing the Voluntary Voting Systems Guidelines, and a Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) to assist EAC in drafting the Guidelines. HAVA also mandated the establishment of state-based administrative complaint procedures that would allow voters to remedy grievances. EAC was additionally charged with developing and maintaining the National Mail Voter Registration Form (pdf), which contains registration rules and regulations for each state and territory, and is the form used to register to vote, report a name change, address change, or register with a political party. EAC was also directed to report to Congress every two years on the effects of the National Voter Registration Act on elections.
In December 2005 EAC distributed the last HAVA Requirements funding, and adopted the 2005 Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG). Per HAVA, they were to augment the previous 2002 guidelines, to address advancements in election practices and computer technologies. They included expanded access opportunities for the disabled, as well as a set of specifications and requirements against which voting systems could be tested, to provide the required functionality and security, and established evaluation criteria for the national certification of voting systems. But those guidelines were considered a first step in the procedure toward fully improved standards for security and usability. In September 2007 a next generation of guidelines was delivered to EAC by TGDC and the National Institute of Standards and Technology; EAC solicited public comments on them and issued a report in September 2009.
In March 2009, the EAC issued its Strategic Plan for FY 2009 through 2014. In 2010 it passed the Accessible Voting Technology Initiative, which allocated $7 million for research into technology and approaches for increasing voting accessibility for the disabled.
From the Web Site of the EAC
Since it was established in 2002, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has spent $1.95 million in over 100 transactions with contractors. The types of services used have included employment management and support ($476,826), office information system equipment ($349,209), and automated information system design ($219,179).
The top five recipients of EAC spending are:
1. Creative Options of District of Columbia $476,826
2. Intelligent Decisions Inc. $176,072
3. Four Points Tech $153,116
4. Universal Electronics $126,220
5. Dell Inc. $117,403
Ballot Problems Not Solved
Eight years after the controversial 2000 presidential election, the United States still did not have standardized rules for ballots, which raised questions about future election troubles.
The 2000 controversy brought “chad” into the American lexicon, and resulted in lawmakers and experts clamoring for changes in election laws.
But by 2008, the federal government had not approved any kind of standard for all states to follow when it came to printing ballots. And the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), tasked to help solve the problems, hasn’t even held a public meeting since 2011.
“The sad fact is, we still have not systematically addressed the need for good ballot design standards,” Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school, told the Associated Press. “We’ve spent billions of dollars on overhauling election administration in this country, but we’re still seeing the same ballot design mistakes in almost every federal election.”
DeForest Soaries, who chaired the EAC during George W. Bush’s first term, criticized both the White House and Congress for not seriously trying to reform American elections. In an interview, Soaries said the system in place was “ripe for stealing elections and for fraud.”
Confusing ballot designs still plague elections (by Deborah Hastings, Associated Press)
First Bush-Appointed Chair of U.S. Election Assistance Commission Chair Says “No Standards” for E-Voting Devices, System “Ripe For Stealing Elections’! (by Brad Friedman, BradBlog)
Think the Florida Recount Was Bad? Wait Until November 6 (by Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic)
A Zombie Voting Commission (by Emily Heil, Washington Post)
As Florida Finishes Ballot Count, Parties Continue Election Blame Game (by John Guzzardo, Examiner)
Tova Andrea Wang, who was one of two people contracted by the EAC to take a preliminary look at Voter Fraud and Intimidation and make recommendations, submitted her report in July 2006, relating, among other things, that their “preliminary research found widespread agreement among administrators, academics, and election experts from all points on the political spectrum that allegations of fraud through voter impersonation at polling places were greatly exaggerated.” She was then banned from any further involvement, and no report based on her research was released for six months. When one finally did come out, it contained different information than what she and her co-worker on the project had discovered and written.
The EAC has also been criticized for not releasing the results of some of its other studies. In addition, Reverend DeForest Soaries, whom President George W. Bush appointed as the first Chairman of EAC, made, after his resignation in April 2005, several comments indicating his belief that there are major deficiencies in the way the EAC was set up to operate. He claimed that while he worked at EAC there was no proper regulatory authority given the EAC for it to function effectively, no prudent standards followed, or enough acceptable research done, to guarantee the sweeping voter reforms Americans were promised with the signing of HAVA, and which is their fundamental right in a democracy. There have also been assertions from others that some new models of voting systems and the accompanying paperwork are so inexplicably complicated that it is nearly impossible for voters to be able to know with any certainty that their results will be accurate. Others have denounced EAC for secrecy in its voting system testing.
A Rigged Report on U.S. Voting? (by Tova Andrea Wang, Washington Post)
“He Said, She Said” at the EAC (by J. Gerald Hebert, Campaign Legal Center)
Voting Commission Plagued by Problems, Limited Funds (by Deborah Hastings, Associated Press)
Is Voter Fraud a Fraud?
The EAC came under attack in 2007 for suggesting that voter fraud was still a problem, even though its own draft report said otherwise.
The EAC’s final report, though not officially released, echoed concerns by Republican politicians who have argued that voter is widespread. This argument has been the primary justification for many states adopting voter identification laws.
Democrats have disagreed with the GOP’s cries of voter fraud and have objected to voter ID laws, claiming they disenfranchise the poor, the elderly and minority groups. And there has been little in the way of actual evidence of fraud.
In the commission’s draft report, it stated that, “there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud.” When the final version was issued to the public, the document instead stated that, “there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud.” The original said that no false registration had resulted in polling place fraud, but the finalized copy said that registration campaigns were a source of fraud.
Federal Panel on Voter Fraud Scrutinized (by Pam Fessler, NPR)
Panel Said to Alter Finding on Voter Fraud (by Ian Urbina, New York Times)
The Myth of Voter Fraud (by Michael Waldman and Justin Levitt, Washington Post)
Report refutes fraud at poll sites (by Richard Wolf, USA Today)
Should It Stay or Should It Go?
Established in the wake of controversial 2000 elections, the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was created as part of the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to ensure HAVA requirements are met by states. The EAC was also charged with adopting voluntary voting system guidelines and serving as a national clearinghouse of information about election administration. But Republicans say the EAC is a waste of money and needs to go, while some Democrats insist the commission still is useful.
According Representative Gregg Harper (R-Massachusetts), the EAC has become a “bloated federal agency that has long outlived its purpose and recklessly mismanages its resources.” Many of its objectives have been met, with states switching over from old punch-card voting systems to modern systems and databases. Harper acknowledges that the commission still has some ongoing testing and certification to do, along with an overdue study to complete. But the remaining work that needs to be done could be performed by the Federal Election Commission. That’s why Harper and others want to abolish the EAC and save the federal budget about $14 million a year.
It's Time For The Election Assistance Commission To Go (by Rep. Gregg Harper, The Hill)
Election Assistance Commission Has Not Met Mandates (Center for Public Integrity)
Why the Election Assistance Commission Must be Abolished (Election Defense Alliance)
Representative Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), who co-sponsored HAVA, insists the government still needs the commission. He argues abolishing it “would be an invitation to repeat mistakes that blemished our democracy in 2000,” when votes in some states weren’t counted. In these highly partisan times, “the last thing this nation needs are voting systems and procedures whose reliability causes the losing camp to question the integrity of the outcome. Americans need to know that whoever wins on Election Day won as a result of reliable voting systems and a fair vote.” Another Democrat, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio, claims the move to eliminate the EAC represents an effort to suppress the ability of some Americans to vote.
Rep. Fudge Denounces Republican Efforts To Abolish Election Assistance Commission (Congresswoman Marcia Fudge)
Election Assistance Commission May Be Closing (by Alex Knott, Roll Call)
Rosemary E. Rodriguez
Rodriguez attended Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colorado, and worked for 10 years as a legal secretary. She was a delegate to the 1988 Democratic national convention and served as a captain in the Denver Democratic Party. Rodriguez went to work for the mayor of Denver, Wellington E. Webb, as his scheduler from 1992 through 1995. She was also president of the Hispanic League and a member of the Latino Education Coalition. In 1995, Webb promoted Rodriguez to deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Art, Culture and Film. In 1997 she moved up to the position of Denver’s Clerk and Recorder, a post she held until 2002. Her responsibilities included that of election commissioner. From 2002 to 2003 she was the Director of Boards and Commissions for the mayor’s office and she served as chairwoman of the Reapportionment Commission. In 2003 Rodriguez was elected to the Denver City Council and served as its president from 2005 to 2006.
In November 2006, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada nominated Rodriguez to be one of the Democratic members of the EAC, and she assumed her new position in March 2007. Seven weeks later she was elected vice chair. She was named chairwoman in January 2008.
Rodriguez is also a founder of Latina Initiative, which registers Latino voters and provides non-partisan election information to the Latino community.
A conversation with Rosemary Rodriguez: Chairwoman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (by Lynn Bartels, Rocky Mountain News)
DeForest B. Soaries, Jr.
Prior to joining the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in August 2005, Donetta L. Davidson spent her entire career handling election-related matters, from being a county clerk to serving as Colorado’s secretary of state.