There is no question the integrity of our elections is under assault. There are reports that Russian hackers interfered with the 2016 Election. There was fear of cybersecurity threats on our voter registration systems. There are the unfounded and unsubstantiated claims that three to five million people illegally voted.
All of this undermines the confidence of our election process for the citizens of this country. That can have a devastating impact on who we are as Americans and the trust in our fundamental right to choose our leaders.
Now one of the biggest blows to the process is coming from within government. There is a push by some in Congress to eliminate the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The House Administration Committee this week voted 6-3, along party lines to dismantle the commission.
What is the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and why should West Virginians care?
The EAC is an independent, bipartisan commission that tests and certifies election systems and provides states and counties with access to best practices to ensure secure, accurate and accessible elections. It was created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) after the debacle of the 2000 Florida Election.
So right off the bat, West Virginia needs the EAC. It is in West Virginia state law that election officials follow the testing guidelines of the EAC when purchasing voting equipment. Those guidelines were used in the early 2000s when counties first bought new voting systems. Now as that equipment is aging out and county election officials must buy new equipment, the EAC is needed even more.
For example, Ohio County and several other counties in WV used new voting systems this past election. Before a vendor can try to sell voting equipment to a county in West Virginia, the vendor must first have its product certified by the EAC. Then in West Virginia, it must be approved by the State Election Commission.
So with this approval process, the EAC essentially has the back of the Ohio County election officials and ultimately the voters of the state when it comes to making sure voting machines are secure, safe and have followed voluntary voting system guidelines. It will also track and have vendors correct problems with those systems that may occur.
This guidance from the EAC is not a top down approach. Actually it’s quite the contrary. The Standards Board of the EAC is made up of an equal number of state and, county officials across the country that meet and develop voluntary voting system guidelines. Each state has two members who are election officials of opposite political affiliations.
The EAC describes the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG) as a set of specifications and requirements against which voting systems can be tested to determine if the systems meet required standards. Some factors examined under these tests include basic functionality, accessibility, and security capabilities. These guidelines are voluntary. States may decide to adopt them entirely or in part.
West Virginia deserves to have the most up to date and secure voting technology. The EAC is required to make sure the systems are modernized and secure.
This isn’t the first time the EAC has been under attack with threats of being dismantled. About six years ago, this same committee attempted to defund the agency. When there were vacant positions on the commission, some of my fellow secretaries of state across the country were content to see the EAC wither on the vine. But I pushed back against those efforts because I saw the important role it played in our elections and its potential to improve election administration across the country.
The potential to improve election administration has been recognized in West Virginia. The PEW Center for the States acknowledged the work of West Virginia when its Election Performance Index for how states administer elections showed we had improved 19 spots from 45th to 26th.
The EAC also benefits citizens when they have questions about elections in a specific state. The EAC provides a clearinghouse of information for election officials, researchers, and the public. It is the one resource where someone can find what is required for registering to vote, requesting an absentee ballot, what voting system is used or just to find general information for elections in each state.
The commission will continue to provide much needed resources to West Virginia and other states that no other agency has the ability to do. The 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) conducted by the EAC will be released in late June. It is the most comprehensive set of data regarding election administration and voting across the country.
That is why the Election Assistance Commission is needed now more than ever. It will provide a framework to prepare for next year’s midterm elections. With the additional focus placed on voter registration lists, the information gathered by the EAC is invaluable because it will ensure election officials have tools and resources needed to protect the integrity of our election administration process.
Now is not the time for Congress to strip election officials and citizens of a reliable, competent agency that has served them so well. West Virginians deserve better and can rest assured that the Election Assistance Commission will continue to have their back.
To learn more about the EAC, visit the website www.eac.gov