Every odd-numbered year since 2011, Republicans in the House have tried to kill the Election Assistance Commission—the tiny federal agency responsible for helping states improve their voting systems. None of their previous efforts made it very far, and with Barack Obama in the White House, the 15-year-old commission had little to fear. This year, the same fight has taken on much greater urgency. Congressional committees are investigating whether a foreign power tried to hack the U.S. election. The new president is convinced that widespread fraud cost him millions of votes. And with an ally in the Oval Office, House Republicans have begun moving faster than ever before to eliminate an agency they say is unnecessary and wastes taxpayer money. “I’m more worried this time,” said Wendy Weiser, the director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “There’s a belief that this has more legs than it did in the past.” The House Administration Committee has a new chairman, Representative Gregg Harper of Mississippi, who has led the opposition to the EAC, and last week the panel made his bill ending the agency the first piece of legislation it approved in the new Congress. “It is my firm belief that the EAC has outlived its usefulness and purpose,” Harper said shortly before the committee’s six Republicans voted down objections from its three Democrats to approve the legislation.
The Election Assistance Commission came into existence as part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the law that Congress passed to aid states in modernizing their elections following the widespread problems reported during the 2000 presidential balloting. The independent, bipartisan agency was tasked first with distributing $3.1 billion in federal funds to states updating their voting machines. Its ongoing responsibilities include providing guidance to states on federal election law, maintaining the national voter registration form, and certifying voting machines and testing labs for new machines.\
… GOP attempts to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission have passed out of committee but not made it to the House floor for a vote in the last four years. Spokesmen for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy wouldn’t say whether that would change this time. While voting-rights organizations have come out against the bill, the National Association of Secretaries of States narrowly approved a resolution in 2015 calling on Congress not to reauthorize or fund the EAC. That message emerged out of concerns about the commission “eventually evolving into a regulatory body” and encroaching on the authority of individual states to run their own elections. With secretaries of state set to gather in Washington D.C. this week for an annual conference, the EAC is likely to be a topic of discussion, a spokeswoman for the association said.
With Trump as president and the agency mired in a court battle, Weiser and other advocates are worried it is newly vulnerable to a quick strike in Congress. “The environment is such,” Weiser said, “that a lot of House Republicans are emboldened to push through anti-democratic and anti-oversight measures.” At the commission itself, Hicks said they were hopeful of maintaining the support from Democrats that has kept the agency afloat the last several years. “There’s always a concern,” he said. “As long as we’re here, we’re going to continue to do the job.”