House Republicans are seeking to abolish the federal Election Assistance Commission — as if the nation is fully recovered from the hanging-chad nightmare of 2000. The 9-year-old commission was created in bipartisan Congressional resolve to repair the nation’s crazy quilt of tattered election standards and faltering machinery.
The commission was charged with upgrading the mechanics of voting by certifying electoral equipment, channeling needed federal aid and guidance to states, and developing a national mail-in voter registration system. After a slow start, it has made progress as the 2012 elections loom. But there is still a lot more that needs repairing.
Representative Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican and the elections subcommittee chairman, nevertheless insists that the commission “is no longer essential” and is leading the drive to flat-line it for a savings of $18 million. Surreally, a related Republican bill would transfer the agency’s mandate to the Federal Election Commission — Washington’s nonpareil in agency dysfunction. That would only invite partisan standoff and voting scandal.
The Election Assistance Commission should have been focused earlier on pushing all states to require a paper trail with their post-chad electronic voting machines. But it has tested voting systems for accuracy, and it oversees the special requirements of military and disabled voters. It could make more progress if turf-minded state officials were more open to its valuable studies on better ballot design. Far from going out of the business, the commission needs renewed support from Congress. For the sake of credible elections, the House gambit should be rebuffed.