House committee aims to step up election oversight

In February, House Administration Committee members Harper, Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) submitted a resolution recommending the EAC’s termination and transfer of commission operations to other agencies.
 
“EAC is a perfect example of what’s wrong with this place,” Harper said. “They have doubled their staff size in about three years with no new responsibilities. They spend more than half of their budget on management versus programs.”
 
In a subcommittee hearing Thursday on the proposed termination of the EAC, Harper stated that the commission had lived past its usefulness, and Rokita said its creation was not necessary in the first place.
 
But witness House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) defended the commission, testifying that it should continue.
 
“Abolishing the EAC would be an invitation, in my opinion, to repeat the mistakes that blemished our democracy in 2000,” Hoyer said. “The debacle of the 2000 presidential election embarrassed the United States and showed just how flawed election systems were.”
 
Following that election, both Republicans and Democrats agreed the federal government had a duty to step in and improve election systems and procedures, he added.
 
“I am urging you as you consider this to not eliminate [the EAC],” Hoyer said. “If we eliminate it, it will mean the federal government will have no effective participation in ensuring that every vote counts.”
 
The subcommittee plans to consider testimony from Thursday’s hearing and update the legislation proposed to terminate the commission to reflect the transfer of the EAC’s remaining duties to the FEC. According to subcommittee staff members, the next step will be a mark-up, currently anticipated for some time in May.
 
In addition to scrutinizing the EAC, the subcommittee will also delve into oversight of the FEC in the future. According to Harper, the last time that commission had a true oversight hearing was eight years ago.
 
“In fairness, what that means is both parties have had an opportunity and haven’t had to fool with it,” he said. But “we do need to take a look and see what’s going on.”
 
According to the chairman, the subcommittee will explore the FEC’s delays in issuing regulations and why those regulations become so complicated and confusing.
 
“We’d like to see some simplification to where people don’t have to go to a lawyer every time to ask even a routine question, and that’s not asking a lot of the FEC,” Harper said. “We think that a little oversight would be consistent with what folks expect. It would be healthy for the FEC and for us, and give them an opportunity to answer some questions that we think need to be answered.”
 
According to Harper, the Elections subcommittee will tackle EAC issues first before it transitions to oversight of the FEC, but it aims to perform fact-finding of that commission sometime later this year.
 
In addition to oversight of the EAC and FEC, the subcommittee will also increase oversight of military overseas voting, as well as federal elections and ensuring that everybody who votes in them is legally able to do so.
 
Shoring up voter registration rolls has become a greater priority in the wake of a Colorado study that found as many as 5,000 non-citizens in the state took part in the 2010 general election.
 
“It’s important that we balance that; you don’t want to do anything that suppresses a vote, but on the other hand, you don’t want to have anybody vote that shouldn’t vote,” Harper said.
 
To that end, the subcommittee will be looking into coordinating access to and cleaning up of state voter registration rolls and databases.
 
“That’s something we want to look at, if there’s a way that folks can have access,” Harper said. “Secretaries of State in respective states have the responsibility to do their job, and I think for the most part we would say they are. If we can give them the tools to help them do a better job and clean up their rolls, we want to do that.”
 
When asked how the subcommittee would balance this request with funding needed to carry it out, Harper said they planned to look to states that are already performing the task well as role models.
 
“What we don’t want to do is give any state or states an unfunded mandate. We think that the states can handle this,” he said. “You don’t want any type of voter fraud ... this issue will be something that we will continue to follow.”