Leaders on two U.S. House committees acknowledge that parallel investigations into computer security and staffing breakdowns at the Federal Election Commission aren’t living up their initial billings. Such apparent lack of action comes at a critical time for the FEC, which this month warned Congress of threats to its computer networks that have “increased dramatically,” and of staff vacancies across the agency that “have begun to affect negatively the FEC’s ability to provide public services.” The Center for Public Integrity detailed the severity of both problems, which include the successful infiltration of FEC computer systems by Chinese hackers, in an investigative report last year. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Operations Subcommittee that oversees federal IT matters, in January promised to “conduct a full and thorough review of the vulnerabilities of FEC systems which should raise concerns for all federal elected officials.” That hasn’t yet occurred.
Two congressional leaders — one Republican and one Democrat — are calling for investigations into Federal Election Commission computer security and operational breakdowns that the Center for Public Integrity detailed in a recent report. The report revealed that Chinese hackers crashed the FEC’s computer information technology systems in October just as the federal government shut down, and that the agency is suffering from chronic staffing shortages. A subsequent audit the FEC commissioned revealed a variety of other security issues. “The revelations that FEC IT systems were compromised raises serious concerns,” said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Operations Subcommittee which oversees federal IT matters. “I am working with my staff and the staff of the full House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate the extent of the breaches, and I intend to conduct a full and thorough review of the vulnerabilities of FEC systems which should raise concerns for all federal elected officials.”
National: Kill the Election Assistance Commission? Two commissioner nominees languish as Congress mulls axing bedraggled body | Center for Public Integrity
Myrna Perez and Thomas Hicks again sat before a pair of U.S. senators Wednesday for a hearing on their presidential nominations to the Election Assistance Commission. Their session, however, morphed into a debate on whether this little-known and decidedly bedraggled commission — created by Congress in 2002 to help prevent voting meltdowns like those experienced during the 2000 presidential election — should exist at all. “The Election Assistance Commission has fulfilled its purpose and should be eliminated,” declared Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, the ranking member of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which conducted the hearing. He quickly added: “None of my comments are a reflection of the nominees.” Reflection or not, the nominees find themselves in a political purgatory and legislative limbo soupy as any Congress is stirring.
With the help of Michigan Elections Director Chris Thomas, U.S. Rep. Candice Miller on Tuesday made the case on Capitol Hill that Congress must act to end millions of duplicate voter registrations nationwide from state to state. In testimony, Thomas told the Committee on House Administration, chaired by Miller, that federal legislation is needed to clear up the confusion caused when voters maintain an old driver license in one state but declare their voter registration in another state. A pending bill co-sponsored by Miller, former Michigan Secretary of State, and Rep. Todd Rokita, former Indiana Secretary of State, would require new state residents applying for a driver license to notify the state if they intend to use their new residency for the purpose of voting. If so, the legislation would mandate that the new state to notify the applicant’s previous state of residence so its chief election official can update voter lists accordingly.
U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, relying upon her experiences as Michigan secretary of state, is denouncing President Obama’s plan to form a national election commission which will seek solutions to long waits for voters on Election Day. “That’s about the last thing we need is another election commission,” Miller said, asserting that reforms should be left to the states that had voting problems last fall. In his State of the Union address, Obama announced the creation of a commission to set national standards and he pointed to the plight of 102-year-old Desline Victor of Miami who waited six hours to cast her ballot in November. An estimated 201,000 frustrated Floridians left the polls before voting.
Michigan Republican Candice S. Miller was appointed chairwoman of the House Administration Committee, House Speaker John A. Boehner announced Friday afternoon, making Miller the only female chairman of a House committee for the 113th Congress. Miller’s selection over Mississippi Rep. Gregg Harper — who had expressed interest in the post — comes just days after House Republicans were chided by Democrats and some womens’ groups for signing off on an all-white male cast to lead the 19 major House committees. Miller will replace Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., who lost his bid for re-election to Democrat Ami Bera.
National: House Dems denounce GOP’s proposed dissolution of Election Assistance Commission | TheHill.com
Democrats on the Committee on House Administration have unanimously denounced a Republican recommendation to reduce spending within the legislative branch. This week lawmakers proposed cost-saving initiatives to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. In a letter Thursday to the joint committee co-chairmen, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), House Republicans recommended eliminating funding for the Election Assistance Commission.
House Administration Committee Republicans have long advocated the dissolution of the EAC, an independent, bipartisan commission formed by the Help America Vote Act in 2002, saying the commission’s primary purpose had already been achieved. In June, the House rejected a bill to end the commission, which Republicans said would save $33 million over five years.
“The Election Assistance Commission has fulfilled its function and is now a perfect example of unnecessary and wasteful spending,” committee Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) wrote in Thursday’s letter. Committee Democrats responded swiftly to the recommendation, claiming that terminating the EAC would instead lead to problems.
Colorado: Elections Subcommittee Democrats Seek Investigation of Colorado Secretary of State | Committee on House Administration
In a letter to Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General in the Civil rights Division of the Department of Justice, Congressmen Bob Brady and Charles A. Gonzalez, the Ranking Members of the Committee on House Administration and its Subcommittee on Elections, respectively, have requested an investigation into actions taken by Colorado Secretary of State, Scott Gessler. Last week, Sec. Gessler petitioned the Denver District Court for an injunction to prevent the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s office from mailing ballots to eligible voters ahead of the November 01, 2011, election simply because they hadn’t voted in the last general election.
“No right is mentioned more times in the Constitution than the right to vote,” said Rep. Gonzalez. “It is the responsibility of every public official to ensure that eligible citizens are not denied that right. Secretary Gessler, instead, has taken steps that could prevent Coloradans’ civic participation. The Voting Section of the Department of Justice exists to protect this foundation of our democracy.”
Denver City and County Clerk and Record Debra Johnson has called this “a fundamental issue of fairness and of keeping voting accessible to as many eligible voters as possible” and the maps her office released suggest that districts with large minority populations would be particularly hard hit by Gessler’s rule. The congressmen were also concerned that eligible and registered voters who had missed the last election because of a disability or because they were deployed abroad at the time might miss their chance to vote this year.
The House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to repeal an election commission set up after the controversial 2000 presidential election. Members plan to vote on H.R. 672, which would repeal the Election Assistance Commission. That commission was established in 2002 after confusion and controversy over ballots in Florida for presidential election between then-Vice President Al Gore and then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
The commission was set up under the Help America Vote Act approved in 2002. That law created the commission, which set voting guidelines for states, and to distribute funds to states that could be used to update voting equipment.
Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), the sponsor of H.R. 672, says repealing the commission would save $14 million a year and that it can safely be repealed because the commission’s work has been completed. He said that in 2010, the National Association of Secretaries of State renewed their request to repeal the EAC, which has “served its purpose.”
The House Administration Committee will step up election oversight, as it increases hearings to twice a month and sets its sights on terminating the Election Assistance Commission. “There are a number of things that need to be addressed in the coming months,” said Elections subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.). “Oversight certainly has been lacking…