April 13, 2007

Senate Fallout from EAC Controversy

The following press release just arrived via email from Senator Feinstein's office:

    Senators Feinstein and Durbin Seek Response from EAC Regarding Allegations of Altered or Delayed Studies
    - Request for Information Follows Troubling News Reports of Politically Motivated Actions by EAC -

    Washington, DC -- In light of troubling news reports containing allegations that the Election Assistance Commission may have altered or delayed the release of reports for political purposes, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) today requested detailed information from the EAC on two recent studies related to voter fraud and voter identification requirements.

    Senator Feinstein is Chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and Senator Durbin is Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

    "Accurate and detailed information about the realities of voter fraud and the impact of voter identification requirements is needed if we want to create meaningful reforms to federal election practices," Senator Feinstein said. "The Election Assistance Commission provides a valuable service by looking into these issues, but we need to make sure that the true findings are being disclosed to the public and Congress."

    "The Election Assistance Commission has a responsibility to provide the public with comprehensive, unfiltered information, free from the influence of partisan politics," said Senator Durbin. "Congress has a responsibility to provide oversight of the Commission's actions and hold them to the highest standards of integrity and credibility."

    Senator Feinstein has scheduled a Rules Committee oversight hearing on the Election Assistance Committee for Wednesday, June 13.

    The following is the text of Senators Feinstein and Durbin’s letter to Election Assistance Commission Chairman Donetta Davidson:
    April 13, 2007

    The Honorable Donetta Davidson
    Chairman
    U.S. Election Assistance Commission
    1225 New York Avenue, N.W.
    Suite 1100
    Washington, DC 20005


    Dear Commissioner Davidson:
    We are writing to seek a response to very troubling news reports that included allegations that the Commission may have altered or delayed release of two taxpayer-funded studies of election issues for political purposes.
    While the Commission is within its rights to decide what guidance it issues to election officials, it is critical that its actions are not perceived as politically motivated and it is imperative that you provide full documentation about the Commission's proceedings on these matters.
    On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that a bipartisan team of election law experts hired by the Commission to research voter fraud in federal elections found that there was little such fraud around the nation, but the Commission revised the report to say that the pervasiveness of voter fraud was still open to debate.
    On Monday, Roll Call reported that the Commission two weeks ago rejected the findings of a report, prepared as part of a $560,000 contract with Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute and Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law. That report found that voter identification laws may reduce election turnout, especially by minorities.
    It is imperative that the Commission's actions and deliberations are unbiased, free from political influence and transparent. While the Commission does not have to agree with the experts who perform its research, it should make the research available unfettered and unfiltered.
    Attached are a series of questions, we would like the Commission to address. We look forward to your timely response.

    Sincerely,
    Dianne Feinstein Richard J. Durbin
    Chairman Chairman
    Committee on Rules Subcommittee on Financial
    and Administration Services and General Government, Committee on Appropriations

    We request information and documentation from the Commission that answer the following questions:

    COMMISSION'S OVERSIGHT ON EAGLETON CONTRACT TO PERFORM A STUDY ON VOTER IDENTIFICATION

    1. Did the Commissioners or Commission senior staff receive any outside communication or pressure to change or not release the entire draft report or portions of the draft language on the voter identification report? If so, who made those requests?

    2. Would you please provide a copy of the approved Request For Proposals, as well as any contract modifications that were agreed to between the Commission and Eagleton Institute and subcontractors?

    3. Can you provide the names and qualifications of Election Assistance Commission staff that worked on the Eagleton Institute project?

    4. Please indicate how many project meetings occurred during the term of the Eagleton contract, including in-person meetings, conference calls regarding the status of the report, and any meeting where Commissioners were present for at least part of the meeting. Please provide copies of any minutes from those meetings.

    5. Please identify the names and affiliations of members of the Peer Review group or groups that examined the Eagleton Institute drafts. Please also indicate the dates upon which any such review of the Eagleton research was conducted, and the specific concerns or complaints that were raised by members of the Peer Review group as to either the analysis or statistical methodology, if any. Please provide copies of any minutes from those meetings.

    6. If certain members of the Peer Review groups had concerns with the data or methodology of the Eagleton study, was that information communicated to Eagleton, and were any changes made to the study based on Peer Review group concerns with methodology or data?

    7. Who were the individuals (and what were their academic qualifications) that advised the Commission that the data, methodology, or the results of the Eagleton Contract were so flawed that the Commission should reject the report? At what point did the Commission receive input from those individuals?

    8. The Commission previewed its research on the Eagleton Institute's study on Provisional Voting at its May 2006 Advisory Board meetings--why was the Voter Identification Draft Study not discussed at that time? What is the status of the Provisional Voting report?

    9. In rejecting the Eagleton report, the Commission indicated concerns that there was only one year's worth of data. Given that this was the first year that Commission had studied the results, isn’t "one year" what was originally contemplated in the Eagleton contract? Isn't the reason for having a major research institute conduct this study is so they can draw initial assessments from that data--even though that data can be augmented in future years? Because of the rejected report, will the Commission start anew for research in the 2008 elections?

    10. What was the final, total cost of the Eagleton contract, and what was produced or released by that Commission as a result of that contract?

    COMMISSION'S OVERSIGHT OVER VOTER FRAUD/INTIMIDATION STUDY

    1. Did the Commissioners or Commission senior staff receive any outside communication or pressure to change or not release the entire draft report or portions of the draft language on the voter fraud report? If so, who made those requests?

    2. Given the bipartisan nature of the Working Group that guided the Voter Fraud/Intimidation report, and the bipartisan nature of the contracted experts who uniformly support the results of this report, what concerns lead the Commission to determine the report should not be released?

    3. If there were points in the report that the Commission objected to, were there attempts to work with the contractors to deal with specific concerns? If there were such attempts, please describe them.

    4. Who drafted the Commission summary (released in December, 2006) of the Voter Fraud/Intimidation report, and what were their credentials and involvement in the original research process? Were there instructions or guidance given from Commissioners or senior staff as to what portions of the research should be emphasized? Who at the Commission reviewed the summarized report? Since the contracted experts are referred to in the Commission’s released report, were the contractors allowed a chance to review or edit that Commission's final report that was released in December, 2006?

    5. Please provide copies of any electronic or written communications between Commission employees that relate to the editing of the Voter Fraud/Intimidation report.

    6. Please explain what Mr. Job Serebrov was referring to in his email referenced in the New York Times article of April 11, 2007. Please provide any documents in the Commission’s possession where employees or contracted experts discussed pressure, political sensitivities, or the failure of the Commission to adopt the Voter Fraud/Intimidation report from March 1, 2006 to present.

    7. While we realize that the Commission voted to release its summary report in December 2006, was there a public vote taken to reject the Draft Voter Fraud/Intimidation report? Such a monumental decision to reject the contract experts' work is a policy decision, and one that should be done in public. When was the decision made to reject the original report, and what notice was provided to the public that the Commission would reject that report?

    8. Prior to the Draft Voter Fraud/Intimidation report’s release, had other organizations requested a copy of that original report? Please include copies of your responses to those organizations, if any.

    9. Had any States requested that the Commission or staff provide guidance related to voter identification requirements in the Help America Vote Act, or identification requirements generally? Please provide those requests, and any responses from the Commission.

    10. Please indicate what steps the Commission is taking to ensure that political considerations do not impact the agency’s research and that decisions are handled in a public and transparent manner.


These are very promising steps by the Senate Rules Committee.

Posted by Rick Hasen at April 13, 2007 12:06 PM