Category Archives: Election Assistance Commission

“The federal agency dedicated to elections is, once again, in turmoil ahead of the 2024 elections”

Jessica Huseman for VoteBeat:

Some news: The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has fired its executive director, Steven Frid, who held the job for less than a year. Frid was the agency’s third executive director in as many years. The agency has also been without a permanent general counsel for nearly two years without even an interim counsel for a year — the temporary replacement left for a job at the Federal Emergency Management Agency last February.

The EAC has confirmed Frid’s departure. Sources with direct knowledge of the decision confirm he was fired.

The executive director and the general counsel represent the top two staff positions in the agency. That means the agency’s chief information security officer — who would otherwise be focused on crucial cybersecurity issues that are obviously relevant to 2024 — is now filling in as executive director. The agency is beginning a search for a different interim director while they look for a permanent replacement.

I’ve spent much of my career writing about how (and why) the EAC isn’t a particularly effective agency….

While many election administrators long ago reached the opinion that the EAC was never going to amount to an effective voice in elections, many still hold out hope that an agency they see as a crucial conduit to Congress and the White House will get its act together. I’ve had dozens of conversations with dozens of such people that go something like this: “Did you see that the EAC hired [insert name here]? They could do some good there.”

Inevitably, that person — a new project managera new technologist, a new executive director, a new attorney — leaves or is fired within two years.

This pattern of turnover for the executive director and general counsel began in 2019, when the pair of officials who’d held the roles since 2015 were not rehired as their contracts expired. Both were replaced in the summer of 2020 by permanent candidates.  About a year-and-a-half later, both positions would be vacant yet again: Executive Director Mona Harrington left for CISA in January of 2022, and General Counsel Kevin Rayburn left for the postal service that February….

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The Federal Role in U.S. Elections, in One Picture

Bipartisan Policy Center has this explainer, which “identifies the primary entities from each branch of the federal government with a role in elections and their overlap and inter-agency collaboration to equip election stakeholders to better use existing resources and advocate for needed improvements.”

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“The self-inflicted voting machine misinformation crisis looming over 2024”


The federal government is about to change its certification guidelines for voting machines — and election officials across the country are bracing for a wave of misinformation that erodes trust in the 2024 election.

Election officials are not-so-quietly freaking out that this long-awaited technical overhaul of voting machine guidelines later this year will be weaponized against them. The officials, who are used to operating in relative obscurity, just endured two election cycles in which seemingly benign issues blew up in their face. Now they’re afraid it’s happening all over again.

We have serious concerns that false information will mischaracterize the consequences” of the changes, read a March letter from the National Association of State Election Directors to the agency that oversees the change in guidelines. “All their public communications must be unambiguous.”

They have good reason to be worried. After 2020, supporters of former President Donald Trump who were convinced the election was stolen from him spread conspiracy theories about the security of voting machines, pushing for so-called election audits in swing states and advocating for hand counting ballots, something election officials say will take longer, cost more money and be less accurate.

The new standards are a welcome update after years of work from the agency — the Election Assistance Commission — and election officials, and are broadly supported in the election community. They were formally adopted by EAC commissioners in early 2021, and represent a significant leap forward in requirements on everything from cybersecurity to accessibility for voters with disabilities.

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“U.S. elections official takes part in secretive GOP conference, sparking backlash”

Zachary Roth:

A commissioner of a federal elections agency recently spoke at a secretive conference of conservative voting activists and Republican secretaries of state and congressional staff — a step that election experts call highly improper for an official charged with helping states administer fair and unbiased elections. 

U.S. Election Assistance Commissioner Donald Palmer, the former chief election official in Virginia, was a panelist at a February conference organized by conservative groups working to impose new voting restrictions, including the Heritage Foundation. 

Ten chief state election officials, as well as elections staff from three additional Republican-led states, attended the confab, which was described by one prominent organizer as a “private, confidential meeting.”

The existence of the conference, including its agenda and list of attendees, was first reported by The Guardian U.S. and the investigative journalism site Documented.

In a statement to States Newsroom, Palmer defended his appearance, calling it “an important opportunity to engage.” Palmer, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, is one of two Republican members of the four-member commission, which by law is divided evenly between the two main political parties. 

Though the EAC has no ethics code to guide commissioners or staff, it’s one of several agencies subject to heightened restrictions on political activity via the Hatch Act — the U.S. law that restricts federal government employees from involvement in partisan politics.

Amber McReynolds, the former elections director for the city of Denver and a prominent election administration expert, said commissioners should be barred from partisan events.

“With elections, the standard has to be higher. The professionalism has to be higher. The transparency has to be higher,” said McReynolds, who sits on the Board of Governors for the U.S. Postal Service. “[EAC commissioners] should not be participating in partisan activities.”

“I do think it’s important for them to engage,” added McReynolds, who is politically unaffiliated. “But do so with equal access in mind and high ethics in mind, and certainly not in private meetings.”

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, went further, suggesting Palmer should step down.

“Election professionals across the spectrum are deeply disappointed that (a commissioner) of this federal agency abused the trust we placed in his ability to be professional and unbiased in supporting election administration,” Benson said in a statement. “His inappropriate and poor judgment calls into question his ability to continue in his role in the future.”

“It’s the perception of appearing at a highly partisan group that isn’t transparent,” said Thom Reilly, the co-director of the Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy at Arizona State University. “In a time when there is so much that’s problematic about how people are viewing elections, I think this is going to add to that. I think it’s problematic.”

In a statement sent via an EAC spokesperson, Palmer responded: 

“The Heritage Secretary of State Meeting was an important opportunity to engage with chief election officials and key staff. It was a forum to discuss the national security implications of voting system standards and testing, federal legislation and funding, and interstate voter registration data sharing, and I appreciated hearing from states and answering their questions.”

Trey Grayson, a Republican former secretary of state of Kentucky who served on the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration created by President Barack Obama, said he doesn’t have a problem with Palmer’s appearance at the event. 

“I don’t think the rules of the EAC require him to step back from being an active Republican,” said Grayson. “Don has extensive election administration experience which he brings to the job as commissioner. He also maintains strong relationships with Republicans across the country. That can help him do his job better. It is possible to still be a partisan and do your job well.”

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“HAVA at 20: Building Trust in Elections”

This looks like a great event on September 1, and there will be a simultaneous webcast:

The Pepperdine School of Public Policy (SPP) and the US Election Assistance Commission will host a series of panels in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Help America Vote Act of 2022 (HAVA) and the 25th anniversary of SPP. Election officials and subject matter experts will hold panels on confidence in elections, security and technology in elections, current issues in election administration, and the future of elections. 

This conference will host a series of panels on confidence in elections, security and technology in elections, current issues in election administration, and the future of elections. “Confidence in Elections” will discuss some of the data identifying trends for the increase in mis-and-dis-information, and ways to address the challenges that stem from it. “Security and Technology in Elections” will discuss the role of election officials as IT managers, which requires a unique set of attitudes, knowledge, and skills to plan, direct, and control contemporary election administration. “Current Issues in Election Administration (Clearinghouse/HAVA Grants)” will discuss election funding through HAVA and the impact those grants have on supporting elections during critical moments over the last 20 years. “Future of Elections- HAVA 20 Years From Now” will discuss how HAVA is still relevant, how elections will evolve in the future, and what can be done to build confidence in our elections. 

More here.

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GAO Report on 2020 Elections

From GAO’s summary of the report, entitled “2020 Elections: State and Local Perspectives on Election Administration during the COVID-19 Pandemic”:

GAO surveyed state election offices and local election jurisdictions about steps they took to prepare for and conduct the 2020 elections during the pandemic. The surveys asked questions on steps and challenges in five areas: absentee/mail voting, in-person voting, election supplies, election worker recruitment and training, and voter education and outreach. GAO received survey responses from 43 states and 407 local jurisdictions.

Within the area of in-person voting, for example, nearly all states reported taking steps to coordinate with public health agencies, and most coordinated with emergency management agencies, consulted with vendors and experts, and helped local election offices add new polling locations. Nearly all local jurisdictions reported taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as by providing protective equipment to election workers. States and local jurisdictions most commonly reported that various issues related to in-person voting—such as funding and understanding guidance—were not challenging…. Additionally, nearly all states and most local jurisdictions reported that false or misleading information about absentee/mail voting was challenging.


Nearly all states and some local jurisdictions reported that they used U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) information resources and guidance during the pandemic. Nearly all states used information about CARES Act grants; fewer used information on other election administration topics. Most states reported finding EAC’s information helpful during the 2020 elections. Most local jurisdictions reported that they did not use EAC information on any of the topics GAO asked about, such as in-person voting. The most common reasons cited were that they were not aware of or did not need the information.

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“Inside the push that landed a Trump legal adviser on a federal election advisory board”

CNN reports on how individuals who promote baseless voter fraud claims have been promoted for seats on an Advisory Board to the Election Assistance Commission.

“Emails obtained by CNN reveal how the push extended to a federal election advisory board and resulted in the 2021 appointment of one of Trump’s legal advisers who helped his failed efforts to pressure Georgia officials into overturning the state’s election results.The emails, obtained by CNN through a Freedom of Information Act request, show conservatives were working even before the 2020 election to gain a seat for an ally on the advisory board of the Election Assistance Commission, an independent government agency that provides voluntary election guidelines for states.

The story of how Cleta Mitchell — the legal adviser who took part in Trump’s phone call where he asked Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” enough votes for him to win — was appointed to that board underscores how a core faction of Republicans has focused on pushing unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud even before Trump convinced much of the Republican Party to buy into his election lies that the 2020 election had been stolen.”

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“How Trump ally Cleta Mitchell won a seat on the EAC advisory board”

Jessica Huseman for Votebeat:

Mitchell’s selection resulted from an unorthodox process by the Civil Rights commission, according to two people with direct knowledge of the process. In April, the commission changed the nominating procedures for members of the EAC advisory board, following Republican commissioners’ complaints that the two USCCR appointees were both Democrats — there previously was no requirement the nominations be bipartisan, and the USCCR’s appointees have often been Democrats. According to the transcript of the April meeting, commissioners determined that going forward the commissioners from each party would submit two candidates, and each would be allowed to veto one of the opposing party’s choices. Two Democrats, Nevada lawyer David Kladney and New York lawyer Debo P. Adegbile, voted against that change.

The two Republican nominations turned out to be Mitchell and Adams himself.

“The Progressive caucus ranked Ms. Mitchell slightly more suitable for a bipartisanship appointment,” Cantú wrote in a statement, saying it was her obligation as chair to advance the nomination. “Personally, I am not pleased with the appointment and would have welcomed another choice. ”

Cantú laid the blame for this appointment process, and the resulting uproar, at Adams’ feet. Mitchell was “more of an unknown variable” than Adams. Commission staff say Adams’ brash behavior and rank partisanship have gridlocked the committee for months, and the other conservatives on the commission have followed his lead.

Cantú said the conservatives previously had “blocked ratifying my appointment,” leaving the commission without a chair for three months. Cantú was approved in April, immediately after the commissioners approved the changes to the EAC appointment process. The commissioners felt their hands were tied when they approved Mitchell, Cantú said, because the conservatives made clear that relenting to one of the Republicans’ advisory board candidates was the only way to make progress on other business.

It’s unclear when the email discussion of Mitchell’s candidacy took place, or what specific objections, if any, commissioners raised. A commission spokesperson said details of that process had not been shared with her, and the USCCR has not yet responded to a Freedom of Information Act request for documents about their decision-making. In the August meeting, the eight commissioners took a final vote on the pair of appointments, with no discussions of Mitchell’s record or qualifications. She was mentioned by name only twice in the conversation before the roll call. One Democrat, Kladney, voted against the appointments. Yaki abstained, and Adegbile, joining Cantú, voted in favor. None responded to requests for an interview.

After Votebeat broke the news of Mitchell’s appointment Monday, the EAC and the USCCR appeared to scramble to respond, even though the vote had been held months before. The EAC put out a statement late Monday, distancing itself from the decision and explaining that it had no control over the appointments, without referring to Mitchell by name. The USCCR followed with a statement, saying that Mitchell had been selected from two possibilities presented by the commission’s Republican members.

Election administrators and across the country protested in public and reacted more angrily in private, and many were appalled that a person who’d baselessly denigrated their work would be given such a role. Many administrators called EAC commissioners and staff to demand an explanation. For their part, the EAC commissioners have chosen to stay silent about Mitchell’s appointment.

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EAC Commissioner Hovland calls on “Congress to act boldly and to stand up for our democracy”

Center for American Progress

Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Michael Sozan has this new interview with Election Assistance Commissioner, Ben Hovland. The interview also highlights successes of 2020 including the recruitment of poll workers.

“[T]he untold or under-recognized story of the 2020 election was the amazing job that state and local election officials did to conduct the best-administered election of my career during a global pandemic. . . .

Voters also did their part . . . We saw a record number of mail/absentee ballots as well as a record amount of early in-person voting.

It is also worth noting that Election Day would not have been nearly as smooth without the poll workers, including a new generation of younger poll workers, that signed up to work in polling places across the country in 2020. . . .

Finally, all of this was done and held up to immense scrutiny of every credible examination with no evidence of widespread voter fraud.”

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“Why did this EAC commissioner talk to the senator behind Arizona’s audit?”

Jessica Huseman (in Votebeat’s indispensable weekly newsletter):

A newly revealed text message about Christy McCormick, a commissioner and past chair of the Election Assistance Commission, raised eyebrows among election observers this week. The exchange between two Arizona state senators notes that McCormick agreed to let them use her name in their press release announcing the “audit” Cyber Ninjas would conduct, to be sent out in late January, though it was apparently never released.

A screenshot of the message came in a document dump given to American Oversight, as part of the organization’s lawsuit against Senate Republicans in pursuit of more transparency into Cyber Ninjas’ contract and work. In a message to Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, state Sen. Warren Petersen writes, “McCormick says she’ll be in our press release too.” 

“So won’t she be in deep dodo [sic] for saying this public[ly]?” Fann asked. “Nope, it’s a fact,” Petersen responded. 

The text messages weren’t clear about McCormick’s role in the press release or whether it would signal her support for the audit, and McCormick has provided no public explanation, so I asked for one. McCormick offered a statement: “Commissioners respond to requests from state officials on a weekly if not daily basis. As I do with any state official, I relayed the factual and publicly available information that EAC labs are not accredited by the EAC to perform the type of work that Arizona was seeking to do. The EAC did not track nor see a press release in this instance, and what gets published is not always within our control.”

Those who have talked to McCormick about this tell me they believe her: She was asked by Arizona officials if the EAC-accredited labs could do the kind of audit Fann and Petersen sought, and McCormick — not knowing what kind of audit they even wanted — told them it was not the EAC’s function. Because the press release wasn’t issued and Arizona Republicans haven’t been transparent about the decision-making behind the audit, we’ll probably never know the details of the exchange, but McCormick’s explanation seems plausible. It’s not helped by the fact that apparently no one else at the EAC knew McCormick had taken such a call, or green-lighted her name for a press release. (It’s not clear from McCormick’s statement if she even knew if a press release was in the works, or expressly gave permission.) 

The explanation would be believable and entirely reasonable coming from most other election officials. But McCormick has a years-long history of working behind the scenes at cross purposes with the EAC’s goal of strengthening elections, as revealed in text messages or emails made public in lawsuits or by records requests. Let’s review the evidence.

After 2016, McCormick began to surprise those who had known her work by actively resisting the finding that Russia had interfered in the November election. She repeatedly attempted to convince state election officials it was nonsense. She did so at conferences, she did so by email. “It is my opinion that the entire thing is complete BS,” McCormick wrote to her fellow EAC commissioners and the director of an election association on Dec. 30, 2016. “It sickens me that this administration appears to be creating false intelligence narratives to bolster whatever their agenda is.” She forwarded the full chain to Georgia Secretary of State (now governor) Brian Kemp. “I am appalled by what I am seeing,” she said. He replied to her, calling it “unreal.” 

She didn’t keep it to election officials — she made these claims publicly and with no regard for the facts. In a blog post she published on the EAC’s website in January 2017, McCormick wrote that the claims were “deceptive propaganda perpetrated on the American public” by the outgoing Obama administration. She would not publicly correct this assertion until 2019.

And it wasn’t just words: I reported in 2018 that in the months after the 2016 election McCormick passed up multiple opportunities to hear classified briefings on the issue, essentially lying down on the job as an EAC commissioner. Neil Jenkins, who worked with DHS at the time, told me that she rarely came to meetings, and when she did was actively hostile to the information presented. 

In 2017, McCormick shocked the election world by willingly participating in Trump’s “voter fraud commission,” the drama of which I covered from start to finish. Emails released (also by American Oversight) show that McCormick worked behind the scenes with Republican commissioners Hans Von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams to find right-leaning staff members to employ. She recommended one statistician, and said she was “pretty confident that he is a conservative (and a Christian too).” When I spoke to her at the voter fraud commission’s first meeting in 2017 at the White House, she told me she’d joined the commission because she’d seen voter fraud with her own eyes. She didn’t elaborate. …

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Federal court sends states’ “proof of citizenship” requirement back to EAC for reconsideration

In an underdiscussed opinion from last week, Judge Richard J. Leon in the District Court of the District of Columbia issued a decision in League of Women Voters v. Harrington (once League of Women Voters v. Newby). This longstanding dispute traces back to 2016, when then-Director Brian Newby approved Kansas’s, Georgia’s, and Alabama’s requests to modify the “Federal Form” for voter registration to include proof of citizenship instructions for their states. (The legacy of this dispute also goes back to Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., a Supreme Court decision back in 2013, on the EAC’s authority and proof-of-citizenship on the Federal Form.)

The court found that under the Administrative Procedure Act, Newby’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious.” The National Voter Registration Act requires that the instructions on the Federal Form are “necessary to enable [States] to assess the eligibility of [] applicant[s] and to administer voter registration and other parts of the election process.” The court found that Newby was “mistaken” in believing that he was not required to consider the “necessity” of the changes. Without any belief he needed to consider the matter, he acted improperly. There’s some detail discussion about some of the constitutional issues at play (what I described back in 2014 as the “play in the joints” of the Election Clauses), but it’s a short and readable opinion.

There are a series of Tenth Circuit cases on Kansas’s saga after Inter Tribal on this matter. But the case is now sent back to the EAC (five years after the original decision) to consider Georgia’s and Alabama’s requests pursuant to the NVRA (to the extent they continue to seek state-specific instructions).

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“Judge: US election official violated law in voter form case”


A former high-ranking election official violated federal law in 2016 when he granted requests by Kansas, Georgia and Alabama to modify the national voter registration form to require documentary proof of citizenship in those states, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon threw out the contested decisions made by Brian Newby, then-executive director of the Election Assistance Commission, an independent federal agency, after finding on Thursday that Newby failed to determine whether the proposed requirements were necessary to register to vote.

The long-delayed ruling by Leon has little practical effect since a federal appeals court had earlier granted a preliminary injunction in the case, blocking the enforcement of the requirement.

In a separate case, the Kansas law requiring documentary proof of citizenship was found unconstitutional by a federal appeals court, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene.

Leon remanded the requests for the changes sought by Georgia and Alabama to the Election Assistance Commission to reconsider in a manner consistent with his ruling, should those state continue to seek the state-specific instructions to the form.

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