The House on Thursday approved a bill ending the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) that was set up to ensure states meet certain standards at the voting booth, and ending the public financing of presidential campaigns. The bill passed in a mostly partisan 235-190 vote.
The vote followed a sometimes contentious debate in which some Democrats charged that the GOP effort to end the EAC is in line with other Republican attempts to suppress voter turnout in next year's election. The EAC was established in 2002 after the very close and controversial presidential election of 2000 election, and was meant to ensure states meet certain voting standards.
"There is no doubt that a voter suppression effort is underway in this nation," Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) charged on the House floor. "Abolishing the Election Assistance Commission, an agency charged with ensuring that the vote of each American counts, is just another step in the voter suppression effort and would completely remove oversight of the most important process in our democracy."
Another Democrat, Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.), said the only reason to want to end the EAC is to "suppress votes," and said votes that would be lost are minority votes, "the same groups who were targeted by Jim Crow laws."
“I cannot put a price on our democracy, but it would be the height of recklessness to do away with that agency when election officials tell us they most need the assistance that only EAC has or can provide,” Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) said.
Republicans rejected these arguments, and said the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the 2002 law that created the EAC, originally intended the agency to last only three years.
"I'd like to point out that all of those that are speaking in opposition that were here in 2002 when HAVA passed voted for HAVA," said Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), chairman of the House Administration Committee’s Subcommittee on Elections and sponsor of the bill. "And in HAVA, it contained the provision that created the EAC, which was only supposed to last for three years. This is not a complicated lift to do away with this."
Republicans have said ending the EAC would save $33 million over the next five years. The GOP says the EAC has already served its purpose, and that any work it still does offering guidance to states can be transferred to the Federal Election Commission.
The bill would also end the public financing of campaigns, which is now done through voluntary $3 donations on individual income tax returns. Republicans argued that no candidates for the 2012 election are planning on using public funding, and say that President Obama himself opted out of the public finance system.
"The Federal Election Commission has just this week confirmed that no presidential candidate to date has opted to participate for the 2012 election," Harper said on the House floor. "Mr. Chairman, we're talking about eliminating the program that literally no candidate is currently using or preparing to use at this point.
"That includes President Obama, who in 2008 famously became the first presidential candidate ever to decline to participate in both the primary and general election phases of the program," he added.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) went further by saying Obama's decision to forego public financing should be seen as his support for efforts to do away with the public financing system.
"I stand with our president, Barack Obama, on this issue, who found that fund is worthless, it's an impediment to getting elected," Gohmert said. "So I stand with President Obama in saying, let's get rid of the fund and not use it any more, and let the $200 million in that fund go to something helpful instead of being an impediment to being elected president."
Debbie Siegelbaum contributed