At the end of this week, my tenure as Chair of the EAC will end. It has been a fantastic journey and a true honor to chair the agency tasked with assisting voters, states and territories in achieving the most secure election this nation has ever held. While there were certainly challenges and areas of concern last year, by all accounts the administration of the 2016 election was a success.
There are many terrific memories and highlights that have shaped the past election cycle, especially those involving my interactions with voters, elections officials and other stakeholders. While it was difficult to narrow it down, I’ve identified the following top five observations from my tenure as EAC Chair:
1) States need resources - The passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 marked the first time in our nation’s history that the federal government significantly contributed financially to federal elections. Congress appropriated $3.4 billion that was distributed to the states for the improvement of elections. Since 2000, there have been 8 federal election cycles. While states have used these federal funds to improve access to polling places, purchase voting equipment and make overall improvement to the election process, we know that their equipment is aging and the challenges posed by cybersecurity concerns and other pressures mean that more resources are needed.
As the hope of new federal money to the states is a question for Congress and the president, the EAC is helping state election officials face mounting pressures by continuing to provide important support to the states in the form of best practices and tips, videos, our successful #beready16 campaign and many other resources. Because of these efforts, thousands of voters and election officials have told us that many of the problems associated with Florida 2000 were not repeated in 2016.
2) Disability access needs to continue to be a priority – As a result Congress’ passage of the ADA and HAVA, those with disabilities are guaranteed access to and the ability to vote independently and privately. Despite advances, there still are problems with access and other aspects of casting ballots. To help educate voters, the EAC worked with states and the disabilities community to develop various versions of a "your federal voting rights" card. This card – available is braille, large print, and wallet sized – summarized the rights of voters with a disability and the responsibilities of elections officials. The cards were requested and distributed in the thousands.
3) Our country’s election system is very diverse – In traveling from Maine to Florida and Arizona to Oregon, I gained an even better appreciate for our country’s very decentralized and diverse election system. This proved a great strength when the question of outside attempts to interfere or "hack" the election became a major concern to Americans. Election officials were prepared to secure voting systems both from cyber and physical attacks, and their preparation paid off.
States turned to secure electronic voting equipment that does not connect to the internet, paper ballot backups and all mail voting. No two states conduct elections in the same way, but all states face universal challenges in their work to conduct accessible, accurate and secure elections. The EAC was able to provide information to all states to improve the process. In addition, we shared their concerns with federal officials from the FBI, U.S. Postal Service, DHS and other agencies. From working with the postal service to improve mail delivery of ballots to voters within the states and those who are voting from overseas, including our U.S military personnel, to helping local election officials with the layout of polling places in dense populations areas and education poll workers, our mission couldn’t be more clear.
4) Everyone wants the best election possible – In traveling around the country speaking with voters and election officials, one message was clear: All Americans want elections in which those who are eligible are able to cast votes without being overburdened and in a way that instills confidence in the final election results. I met with advocacy groups and visited election protection sites to hear how they interact with election officials and help to bridge the gap of distrust. The EAC filmed several groups to spotlight their efforts before and on Election Day to help voters cast their ballots. .
5) The United States continues to be the benchmark for elections and the democracy process – In traveling to Cuba and India it became increasing clear that the world continues to closely watch elections in the United States. From who is running for office to how the election process plays out, they view the United States election system as the gold standard for national voting. Many countries have central voting commissions that run their election, which is not the case in the United States, where states run elections and it takes millions of volunteers to make the process happen. The EAC has provided and continues to provide guidance to the world on how the U.S. election process runs. I was very happy to see observers from many counties witnessing the process first hand here in the U.S. I was very proud of how our election officials made it possible for these visitors to see the American election process up close.
This has been a great year in elections. I am proud to have served as Chairman. There were a few bumps in the road, but the American people should have confidence that the election went well. Now, as election officials are looking toward the next election, we too are focused on the future. We will continue to provide resources to voters, the states and stakeholders who can help to improve the election process. Elections are the foundation of our democracy, and the EAC is committed to making that foundation stronger than ever before. I am honored to continue serving at the EAC to continue these important efforts.