Trump nominees testify before Senate panel on plans for election agency

Trump nominees testify before Senate panel on plans for election agency
© Anna Moneymaker

A pair of President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE's nominees for a federal election agency testified before a Senate panel Wednesday on their plans to help state and local officials administer elections.

Donald Palmer and Benjamin Hovland testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on their plans for the Election Assistance Committee (EAC), an agency that helps local officials administer their elections.

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Lawmakers are moving to add the pair to the election agency, with plans for a committee vote on their nominations next week. It would give the group its first quorum since March. Without the quorum, the EAC has been unable to take major policy moves.

There are only two commissioners currently serving at the agency, which was formed as part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Committee Chairman Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster' Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (R-Mo.) said during the hearing Wednesday that while in the past he did not understand the need for the EAC to exist, the concerns raised over election security helped change his perspective.

“However, the threats posed by bad actors and their exploitation of cyber vulnerabilities have highlighted the need for election administrators to have access to real time security information, technical assistance, and best practices,” Blunt said in his opening statement.

Election security has been amplified since Russia was determined to have interfered in the 2016 election. Officials said there is no evidence of interference in this year's elections, but have noted that it could take time before any sort of interference is detected.

Both Trump nominees for the EAC said that pending Senate approval they would work on reviewing the agency's voluntary voting standards to make sure they’re up to date and include the necessary best practices.

However, the nominees gave differing responses as to whether they believe widespread voter fraud is an issue.

Palmer, a former election official in Florida and Virginia, argued that the focus should not be on the degree of voter fraud but instead on ideas for how to eliminate fraud altogether.

"When candidates come to us, they don’t ask us if there was a little bit of fraud or was there lot of fraud," Palmer said.

Hovland, a current staffer with the Senate Rules and Administration panel who formerly worked with the Missouri Secretary of State's office, said he was more focused on removing the barriers to voting.

The hearing also included hints as to the future of the Secure Elections Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation aimed at securing elections from potential cyberattacks.

The bill, introduced by the committee’s ranking member Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDeVos calls Democratic presidential hopeful's education plans 'crazy' Senate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE (D-Minn.) and Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordTrump-Graham relationship tested by week of public sparring Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump insists Turkey wants cease-fire | Fighting continues in Syrian town | Pentagon chief headed to Mideast | Mattis responds to criticism from Trump Senate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster' MORE (R-Okla.), was abruptly held up in the committee earlier this year by Blunt, a move a GOP aide said at the time was due to a lack of support from Republicans.

Klobuchar said during Wednesday’s hearing that they are hopeful they can bring the bill up in committee next year.