Future of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and its Role in Election Administration

Election assistance commission seal

Earlier this year, U.S. Representative Gregg Harper re-introduced a bill as chair of the House Elections Subcommittee that would eliminate the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the federal agency created in 2002 to help election offices nationwide with implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

As Doug Chapin, director of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Election Academy explains, questions about the need for the EAC are directly related to the differing views about the role the agency should play in the national system of election administration. Chapin notes that many lawmakers tend to view federal involvement in state and local administration very skeptically. To them, the EAC is no longer necessary because the tasks it was assigned by HAVA – specifically, distribution of federal funds made available for upgrading voting technology – are complete. Indeed, those concerns led to the EAC being essentially dormant for several years as Commissioners resigned and were not replaced.

But Chapin also notes that since the agency was returned to nearly full strength in 2015, it has filled a new role as a presence in Washington, DC for state and local officials nationwide. On a wide range of issues – voting technology policy, implementation of federal laws like the National Voter Registration Act and questions about designating elections as “critical infrastructure” – the EAC has emerged as both a voice and ear for election officials nationwide on developments at the federal level.

In this ever-evolving environment, understanding this ongoing interplay between the federal government and state/local election systems is a vital skill for the next generation of election administrators. The Humphrey School of Public Affairs, among the country’s top 10 professional public policy and planning schools, offers a first-of-its-kind online program to prepare professionals in election administration. The program is presented in an accessible and stimulating online format that allows students to continue with their current employment while working toward a University certificate.

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