While attention has been focused on the administration’s possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 general election, House Republicans have been busy delivering another nearly silent blow to democracy, as they seek to shut down the Election Assistance Commission.
At the end of June, the House Appropriations Committee introduced a spending bill that would cut funding of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), giving it 60 days to terminate. The bill was a surprise even to many House Representatives, who didn’t think the EAC was under a significant threat.
Even if you’ve never heard of the EAC, it almost certainly has had an effect on your ability to vote easily from abroad. As we approach the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which protected the right to vote for millions of Americans until receiving a significant blow by SCOTUS in 2013, it’s important to remain educated and aware of the laws, bodies and resources still defending our right and ability to vote, and what threats they continue to face.
What it is
Created in the wake of the contested 2000 presidential election, the EAC is an independent, bipartisan commission designed to ensure free and fair elections nationwide. While the authority to administer elections falls upon each state, the EAC compiles guidelines, best practices and tests, and examines and verifies voting equipment.
Importantly to overseas voters, the EAC is also the only broad national agency that keeps record of the right and ability to take part in elections from abroad. The agency supervises ballot access abroad, as well as advocating for greater transparency by reporting on counted and rejected ballots in each voting district. Democrats Abroad often uses EAC reporting as proof that members’ votes are being counted.
Why it matters
“Prior to the EAC's consistent reporting, we simply couldn't be sure that local election officials were counting as valid – or even receiving on time – our ballots,” says Will Bakker, Democrats Abroad Regional Vice Chair, EMEA region. “Those reports are a key assurance to overseas voters that our votes count.”
The situation highlights issues surrounding federal funding to support overseas voting rights that are often in contention. Some states still don’t fully comply with or only follow loosely the requirements of the 2009 MOVE Act.
Partisan attempts to eliminate the EAC have left many Democrats shaking their heads. Shuttering the agency would sever independent lines of communication between the federal government and state and local election officials, and no other federal agency has offered to absorb the organization’s role.
To counteract the Republican bill and help save the agency, Democrats introduced an amendment arguing that the EAC’s small budget of just over $9 million does not significantly burden the federal budget, while the service it provides in keeping elections fair and accessible is invaluable.
As the agency monitors absentee ballot requests and delivery, it could do much in the future to advocate for programs that allow voters to more easily request ballots and confirm their details electronically.
“Some states are financing innovative programs to better serve voters living abroad in part through federal grants,” says Bakker. “Relatively small amounts of money are well-spent when used to ensure the legitimacy and accuracy of elections. I am flabbergasted at proposals to cut the tiny budgets of programs and commissions that have a huge, positive effect on our democracy.”
Bakker also offers up some recommendations for Democrats Abroad as a collective body to fight for more accessible elections.
“The first way DA can help fight voter suppression is to keep our members and voters in general informed,” says Bakker. “My secondary recommendation is counterintuitive: DA can suggest that our members verify that their absentee ballots were received and counted – and ask that they help us track the responses they get. This may seem like more work for officials but this ‘sunlight’ shining on our elections will show where our electoral processes have actual areas of improvement.”