Despite an ongoing investigation into the hacking of voting systems in more than a dozen states during the 2016 presidential election, the new budget blueprint from House Republicans includes a provision to defund the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which the Wall Street Journal notes is "the sole federal agency that exclusively works to ensure the voting process is secure."
"It's more proof of how the GOP's real agenda is to make it harder to vote."
—Ari Berman, The Nation
Since it was established in 2002, the EAC has been under almost constant attack by the Republican Party. Earlier this year, the House Administration Committee voted 6-3 along party lines to eliminate the agency entirely.
As The Atlantic's Russell Berman noted in February, "GOP attempts to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission have passed out of committee but not made it to the House floor for a vote in the last four years."
Because they have failed repeatedly to eliminate the agency, Republicans now appear content to strip it of the funds it needs to operate effectively.
According to its website, the EAC is tasked with:
- "Maintaining the national mail voter registration form."
- Establishing security standards for voting machines.
- Ensuring compliance with rules established by the Help America Vote Act, which was passed in the aftermath of the 2000 election.
- "Serving as a national clearinghouse of information on election administration."
Advocacy groups have warned that defunding or eliminating the EAC would give a green light to hackers looking to manipulate the electoral process.
"At a time when the vast majority of our country's voting machines are outdated and in need of replacement, and after an election in which international criminals already attempted to hack our state voter registration systems, eliminating the EAC would pose a risky and irresponsible threat to our election infrastructure," the Brennan Center for Justice argued.
The GOP's latest attempt to defang the EAC comes as it is "working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to examine an attack late last year on the agency's computer systems by a Russian-speaking hacker," the Wall Street Journal noted on Monday.
The proposed cuts are included in the House GOP's far-reaching budget package, which also features major cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
The Nation's Ari Berman has characterized GOP attempts to eliminate the EAC as merely one element of the party's broad assault on voting rights, which has been intensified by the Trump administration.
"It's particularly ironic that the Trump administration is preparing to launch a massive investigation into nonexistent voter fraud based on the lie that millions voted illegally while House Republicans are shutting down the agency that is supposed to make sure America's elections are secure," Berman noted. "It's more proof of how the GOP's real agenda is to make it harder to vote."
Voting rights groups have argued that now is the time to strengthen the EAC, and that any move to weaken it could further deteriorate the integrity of American elections.
"In light of the many challenges faced by our state and local election administrators and the serious procedural problems that weaken voter access and participation," wrote 38 advocacy groups in a letter (pdf) to the House in February, "we believe that this is a time to reaffirm our commitment to voting rights and fair elections by strengthening the EAC and providing it with the staff it requires to function effectively."