By Debbie Siegelbaum - 05/25/11 05:01 PM EDT
Republicans on the Committee on House Administration have voted to eliminate the independent commission that was established to address election problems after the contested 2000 presidential contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, has disbursed more than $3 billion in “requirements” payments to states to update voting machines and enhance election administration. But the commission has seen that funding significantly decline in recent years.
The best course the committee could take, according to Harper, was to “dissolve the agency, end its wasteful spending and transfer its remaining beneficial functions to another location.”
Under the proposed legislation terminating the EAC, those duties would be given to the Federal Election Commission.
“To sustain an agency that has done its assigned studies, dispersed its assigned grants and fulfilled its mandate is the definition of irresponsibility,” Harper concluded.
Committee chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) sided with his fellow Republicans on the committee. In a statement issued after the hearing, Lungren called the termination of the EAC “an obvious and simple choice.”
“We simply cannot justify spending $14 million each year on a program that even its direct beneficiaries deem unnecessary,” he added.
Committee Democrats opposed the proposed legislation.
Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) called for the EAC’s continued operations, citing recent improvements, including the hiring of a chief financial officer who could help get the agency’s accounts in better shape.
“No one could deny the EAC needs to do more,” said Gonzalez, but he added that the commission has been hampered by a staff shortage. He also called on the committee to improve EAC operations through legislation, rather than dismantling it outright.
Fellow committee Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) echoed Gonzalez, saying the continuation of the EAC is “about having a system in place that would make sure that all the Americans who want to vote have a chance to do that.”
Committee Democrats “acknowledge the shortcomings of the EAC,” wrote Kyle Anderson, spokesman for the Democratic staff of the Committee on House Administration, in an email.
“But Democrats don't believe that cost-cutting should be done at the expense of efforts to ensure that eligible voters have every opportunity to participate in our election system,” he added.
The EAC’s Democratic support also extends beyond the committee. In April, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) testified before the Elections subcommittee that the agency 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.”
Defending termination of the agency, Lungren warned that this was just one of the many tough decisions ahead for the committee.
“We’re in unprecedented times in terms of what the budget concerns are,” he said. “If people think this is a difficult decision, you haven’t seen anything yet to what we’re going to have to consider in this committee with respect to legislative appropriations down the line.”
“If consolidation is not appropriate here, I don’t know what is,” Lungren added.
Now passed in the committee, the proposed legislation terminating the EAC will likely go to the House floor sometime this month, according to GOP aides.