House Republicans put voter assistant commission in cross hairs

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House Republicans are pressing to kill an independent government commission designed to improve state-level voting procedures, arguing the body has run its course, is ineffectual and is a waste of taxpayer money.

The House Administration Committee will meet Tuesday to vote on amendments on a bill to repeal the Election Assistance Commission — created as part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, or HAVA, that was designed to help modernize state-level voting systems in response to Florida’s ballot-counting troubles during the 2000 presidential election.

But the commission has been in limbo since late 2010, when it last had a quorum. All four seats currently are vacant.

Democrats, who support the agency, say that’s because Republicans have undermined its authority by holding up nominations and repeatedly trying to abolish it.

One of HAVA’s main goals has been to help states eliminate punch card and lever voting machines.

The election commission was tasked with distributing federal money to states to comply with the requirements, particularly to purchase the replacement electronic touch-screen voting machines. More than $3.1 billion has bee doled out so far.

Republicans say that while the goal of updating voting machines is a worthy one, the money can’t be justified at a time when the federal debt is almost $17 trillion.

Republicans add that the election commission has a history of mismanagement and improperly spends more than 50 percent of its budget on overhead. And they say the agency was meant to be a temporary body that already should’ve been slated to end.

“The Election Assistance Commission is an obsolete agency that has long outlived its purpose,” said Rep. Gregg Harper, Mississippi Republican, who sponsored the bill calling for its termination.

“The existence of the EAC is not necessary to conduct federal elections and is an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer funds.”

But several elections and government reform groups who oppose the bill — including the Campaign Legal Center, Americans for Campaign Reform, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and Common Cause — sent a joint letter Monday to House Administration Committee members saying that Congress should strengthen, not kill, the election commission.

“Congress should ensure that the EAC has sufficient authority to carry out these responsibilities,” the groups said.

Democrats, meanwhile, are pushing their own measure to reform and reauthorize the commission. Rep. Robert A. Brady of Pennsylvania, the senior Democrat on the House Administration Committee, says the GOP “assault” on the election commission led to “unreasonably long lines, confusion and disenfranchisement of thousands in the 2012 election.”

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who sponsored the Help America Vote Act in 2002, has called on House Administration Committee Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, Michigan Republican, to hold a vote on the Democratic measure. Mr. Hoyer says it’s essential that states get federal help to modernize their voting systems in order to protect against a repeat of the 2000 presidential election ballot controversy in Florida.

“The Election Assistance Commission was created for this purpose, and American voters need it now more than ever,” Mr. Hoyer said last month.

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