Wait, isn’t this an election year? The kind that will see voters stepping into booths and casting ballots, pulling levers and punching buttons?
Bad timing then for the Election Assistance Commission, created in the wake of the 2000 presidential election’s hanging-chad debacle and tasked with overseeing federal election standards, to be completely leaderless.
Not one of the body’s four commissioner seats is filled, and it looks like they’ll remain vacant for the foreseeable future.
Adding to the leadership vacuum, the commission’s executive director left last November. Filling in has been general counsel Mark Robbins — although he has been nominated to another post, and could leave the agency if confirmed.
Routine business in the leadup to the elections hasn’t ground to a halt, exactly — there’s still a $16.2 million budget and a bunch of folks showing up to work. And before the commissioners turned out the lights, they passed rules delegating staff with day-to-day duties like approving voting equipment.
But without commissioners, the commission can’t rule on appeals, hold meetings or hearings and approve new standards that were supposed to be finalized in 2010.
And that seems to be just the way Republicans want it. Congressional Republicans have blasted the EAC, saying it has outlived its original purpose of doling out federal election-aid money to states. The House passed a bill to kill it entirely.
Gracia Hillman, a former Democratic commissioner, sees politics at play. “Republicans have certainly had their way with the commission,” she said, by letting it wither on the vine.
But, she says, Democrats should push harder. The White House, after all, hasn’t sent the Senate names for the two empty Republican slots.
Still, pushing harder may be easier said than done.
Currently, the two commissioner nominations — both Democrats — are awaiting action in the Senate Rules committee. A third nominee, a Republican, withdrew this year. Typically, the committee would move the nominees by pairing a Democrat and a Republican, but without a GOP nominee, there’s little leverage in the closely divided Senate.
Looks like the elections will happen without them.