Established in response to the chaos of the 2000 election, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), by many accounts, has been ineffective thus far in smoothing out the nation’s voting problems. The commission, created as part of the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), is an “independent, bipartisan commission” tasked with “developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and serving as a national clearinghouse of information about election administration,” as well as accrediting testing laboratories and certifying voting systems.
Former President Ronald Reagan called the right to vote “the crown jewel of American liberties,” but after the controversial 2000 election, Democrats and Republicans agreed major legislation was needed to address serious problems in the election system. The EAC got off to a stumbling start, chronically short of funds – receiving only $1.2 million of $10 million authorized in 2004 – and unable to secure office space for its first two years. Subsequently, the commission came under significant criticism — including multiple reprimands from the Government Accountability Office — for its failure to establish and maintain a clearinghouse of information on how state and local governments implemented guidelines and operated voting systems. The EAC admitted it was “resource constrained” in its ability to ensure voting systems “perform securely and reliably.”
On November 8, 2007, less than a year before the 2008 election, the EAC finally announced what then-Commission Chairman Donetta Davidson called “an important first step in building a national clearinghouse of voting system reports that have been conducted by states and counties.” That step became the “Voting System Reports Clearinghouse” section on the EAC’s website, which now includes five reported problems. But the Commission only includes those reports voluntarily filed by states and localities, and the information in the clearinghouse only reaches those state and local election officials who actually visit the website.
An EAC spokeswoman said that the agency has made “significant progress” since the GAO criticisms. She noted that the EAC’s power is limited by the mandates of the Help America Vote Act and that the GAO recently recommended that Congress expand the Commission’s role in resolving voter system problems. Meanwhile, a 2006 Gallup poll indicated that only 28 percent of Americans were “very confident” that across the country the vote would be accurately cast and counted.