The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday voted to advance two of President Trump’s nominees to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), giving the small federal agency a chance of reaching a quorum for the first time since March. During a meeting that lasted roughly a minute, the senators voted in favor of adding Donald Palmer and Benjamin Hovland to the commission, which was created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to help state and local officials administer elections. If approved by the full Senate, Palmer and Hovland — both former election officials — would bring the agency up from two to four commissioners. The EAC has been down to two commissioners — one short of a quorum — since March, when former commissioner Matt Masterson’s term expired. He has since joined the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where he has worked on election security issues.
Election Assistance Commission
Editorials: Improve Elections, Fully Confirm Election Assistance Commission Before 2020 | Matthew Weil/Bipartisan Policy Center
It’s hard to make progress when you have both hands tied behind your back a third of the time. Voters want more secure and better functioning elections, and Congress can act right now to accomplish that. In the swirl of election security concerns, ballot design problems, and vote counting confusion, the Senate should take up the two pending nominees to the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) before adjourning this month. The EAC is the federal government’s main arm for disseminating election administration information to state and local election officials. The Commission sets the guidelines for voting systems and certifies the machines that voters use to cast ballots. Commission staff collect and disseminate vital data about election administration, share best practices, facilitate outreach to language minority voters and those with disabilities, and much more.
A pair of President Trump’s nominees for a federal election agency testified before a Senate panel Wednesday on their plans to help state and local officials administer elections. Donald Palmer and Benjamin Hovland testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on their plans for the Election Assistance Committee (EAC), an agency that helps local officials administer their elections. Lawmakers are moving to add the pair to the election agency, with plans for a committee vote on their nominations next week. It would give the group its first quorum since March. Without the quorum, the EAC has been unable to take major policy moves. There are only two commissioners currently serving at the agency, which was formed as part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
Congress will move closer to giving the Election Assistance Commission a full quorum of members today, when the Senate Rules Committee holds a confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s two EAC nominees, Donald Palmer and Benjamin Hovland. The tiny federal agency, which plays a key role in mediating conversations between state election officials and federal agencies like DHS, currently only has two members, and it needs three to vote on major policy decisions. It has lacked a quorum since March 23, when Matt Masterson, its former chairman, left following the expiration of his term and joined DHS. That lack of a quorum has threatened progress on a major EAC priority, the 2.0 update to its Voluntary Voting System Guidelines, which many states adopt as their voting system regulations. In a statement to MC, Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt touted the EAC’s role in securing elections and highlighted the commission’s lack of a quorum. “I look forward to hearing more from the nominees about how they would strengthen that partnership, in terms of information-sharing, technical assistance, and best practices, so the American people can be assured that election outcomes accurately reflect what happened on Election Day,” he said.
Since February, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has operated with only two members, Chair Thomas Hicks and Christy McCormick. The lack of a quorum has prevented the four-member body from voting on a number of election and security-related initiatives. That dynamic is set to change as the Senate Rules Committee scheduled a hearing this week to consider the nominations of two additional commissioners, Donald Palmer and Benjamin Hovland, to fill the remaining slots. During a Nov. 26 board meeting, Hicks noted that “should they be confirmed, hopefully by early January or February, this will be the first time since 2010 we’ll have a full contingent of four commissioners at EAC.”
National: Just 13 States Have Requested Funds Congress Set Aside to Secure Election Systems | Gizmodo
Thirteen states have withdrawn a total of nearly $88 million from an election security fund established by Congress in March, but more than 75 percent of the funding has yet to be dispersed. The $380 million fund, established as part of Congress’ omnibus appropriations bill, is meant to aid state officials in securing and improving election systems, whether through technical upgrades, cybersecurity audits, or by replacing vulnerable paperless electronic voting machines with paper-based systems. Although it makes up only fraction of what some experts say is needed—the Center for American Progress, for example, has suggested $1.25 billion over a 10-year period, which is close to what Democrats pushed for in February—the funding will ostensibly go a long way toward ensuring the continuation of free and fair elections in the United States, namely by hardening certain systems against hackers who might seek to tamper with the results.
These could be tumultuous times for the tiny federal agency called the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In a mid-term election year in which the threat of Russian meddling in American balloting continues as front-page news, the 30-person staff in Silver Spring, Md., with its $9.2 million budget is forging ahead to help states and localities modernize voting equipment, recruit poll workers and make polling stations more accessible. Some Republican critics in Congress, however, have continued a years-old bid to defund the agency set up in 2002, calling it duplicative and proposing during this year’s continuing budget battle to move some functions to the Federal Election Commission.
Thomas Hicks has been tapped to chair the Election Assistance Commission, an agency that is considered central to protecting the U.S. election infrastructure from cyberthreats, the commission announced on Friday. Reuters reported on Thursday that Republican House Speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan, decided not to recommend former chairman Matthew Masterson for a second term as one of the EAC’s four commissioners. Commissioners are recommended by congressional leadership, nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. According to Reuters, some state officials were surprised that Masterson was not considered for a second term as commissioner, given that he has focused much of his tenure on cybersecurity.
US intelligence and election officials have stepped up efforts to protect this year’s midterm elections over fears that Russia is seeking to influence the public vote and tamper with voting systems. State election officials gathered for two “unprecedented” briefings from intelligence officials last week. “Advanced persistent threats are out there,” said Matthew Masterson, outgoing chairman of the bipartisan US Election Assistance Commission who attended the briefing. Those familiar with the briefing said it focused on the threat from Russia and encouraged states to back up voter databases, regularly patch cyber security lesions and alert authorities of anything suspicious.
House Speaker Paul Ryan faced Democratic criticism Thursday after choosing not to renew the term of a federal agency head who has helped lead the charge on securing elections from hackers. Matthew Masterson, chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, will depart once the Senate confirms a successor, three people familiar with the situation told POLITICO. His four-year term as a commissioner expired in December, but he has stayed while Ryan contemplated whom to recommend to President Donald Trump as a nominee for the seat. Ryan has decided that Masterson won’t be on the list. Another commissioner was already scheduled to take the chairman’s slot on Saturday, but Masterson could have remained as a commissioner if he were renominated. … “This is insanity,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, an election security expert who is the chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology. “Matt is extremely capable and has been a champion of more secure and better elections the entire time he’s been on the EAC.”