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'Election assistance'? Don't look here

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Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 8:52 p.m.

The prospect of this neck-and-neck presidential election becoming a rerun of 2000's Bush v. Gore would be less worrisome if a federal agency created 10 years ago to help avoid that scenario weren't today what Roll Call deems “a shell of what Congress designed it to be.”

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission's four seats — two Democrat, two Republican, with vacancies having to be filled in tandem — are vacant due to congressional gridlock. Its executive director quit in 2011, its general counsel in May. It hasn't had a quorum of three commissioners to conduct business in nearly two years. And most of its $3 billion-plus in Help America Vote Act funding has been spent.

The original commissioners, Roll Call reports, took bipartisan consensus seriously. But after a Republican member left in February 2007, the commission became increasingly mired in partisan gamesmanship.

Fair, transparent elections, which should be everyone's goal, are more likely when the commission can carry out its educational mission — improving election administration, serving as a clearinghouse for voluntary voting-system guidelines and best practices, developing certification guidelines for testing voting machines and ensuring upgrades of states' voting technology.

Because public confidence in elections underpins public trust in government, restoring the Election Assistance Commission to what it should be — fully staffed and fully functional — must be a high priority for the next Congress.

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