The last-minute flurry of action by the Senate Tuesday included filling three of four seats on the federal Election Assistance Commission, which had languished without commissioners since 2010 — or two election cycles, to put it in Washington terms. The Senate confirmed Thomas Hicks, a former election law counsel on Capitol Hill, Matthew Masterson of the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, and Christy McCormick, a Justice Department civil rights lawyer, to the commission. A fourth nominee, Matthew Butler, former CEO of liberal media watchdog Media Matters, has yet to be confirmed. House Republicans have tried to shut down the EAC, and Senate Republicans resisted nominating commissioners. But reviving the commission was one of the recommendations of the bipartisan panel formed by Obama to look into long voting lines during the 2012 election. For one thing, the Election Assistance Commission is in charge of setting federal standards for voting systems, which haven’t been updated since 2005.
“There’s been tremendous angst in the election administration community” about finding new generations of voting machines, says Rick Hasen, election law professor at the University of California-Irvine.
Voting machines bought by states after the 2000 presidential recount are now wearing out. “States and localities need guidance in deciding how to replace them with modern, reliable equipment,” Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections for Common Cause, said in a statement. “That’s why Congress created the EAC in the first place.”
The EAC also collects data on elections. “In the past 10 years, collecting of good data, making fact-driven assessments of performance in election administration, that’s only grown,” says David Becker, director of election initiatives for the Pew Charitable Trusts. “The Election Assistance Commission’s role is absolutely essential.’’