A University of Maryland School of Law professor has called on Congress to make the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) more open to the public when it studies issues of voter fraud and intimidation and voter identification laws.
David Super, JD, an expert on administration law, testified Aug. 2 before the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Elections, which is examining possible partisanship and censorship at EAC.
The commission was created under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) to address voting problems identified in the disputed 2000 presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.
The subcommittee chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), asked Super to testify how a government agency should ideally function.
"EAC has been under some criticism for its alleged lack of transparency and concern about management," said Lofgren. She noted that the hearing was prompted by two reports commissioned by EAC to study voter fraud and intimidation and voter identification laws.
Lofgren cited an April 2007 story in The New York Times that said EAC altered the researchers' findings on voter fraud and significantly delayed the release of a report on the impact of voter identification laws.
"Congress should not have to learn of EAC's actions by reading The New York Times. We cannot allow an agency tasked with election oversight to continue without oversight, especially with the 2008 election upcoming," said Lofgren.
Transparency is the guiding principle that should mark EAC's work, according to Super.
"EAC's research activities should be wholly transparent. In such a politically charged atmosphere, transparency is even more vital than quality".
Super pointed out that EAC is required by law to release its reports. "Section 207(2) requires EAC, without exception, to release reports submitted to it," he said. "It need not, and indeed cannot, guarantee the accuracy of every aspect of every report it commissions."
"Should EAC withhold reports, even bad reports, from public scrutiny, it will invite doubts about what criteria it applied to withhold the report," Super said, adding that EAC also should not edit the reports or tell the researchers to do so.
"The only proper course for EAC to follow with a commissioned report it believes is flawed would be to release that report together with a statement of what it believes the flaws to be," said Super.
Donetta Davidson, EAC chair, said that the commission is "trying to get more transparent in the processes we follow and as time passes we will get better and better."
Rosemary Rodriguez, vice chair of the commission, added that "EAC wants to see the promise of HAVA fulfilled. The most important thing is for Americans to believe and trust in the outcomes of elections."