Senate oversight and appropriations panels last week demanded that the Election Assistance Commission respond to allegations that the agency hid its findings in two highly controversial voting studies.
“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,” Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote to the agency on Friday. “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.”
Last week, Roll Call reported that some EAC critics were crying foul over the agency’s decision to delay releasing a study suggesting so-called motor voter laws may cause a disproportionate drop-off in voting by blacks and Hispanics.
The results, some critics claim, were politically too hot to handle and played a central role in the EAC’s decision not to release the $560,000 document until pressured to do so recently by Members of Congress.
The agency, which was created to help oversee smooth elections, defended its decision not to adopt the study, maintaining that its actions are not dictated by politics. For example, in the case of the analysis of minorities and voter ID laws, agency officials said, the decision not to adopt the study’s finding came down to the study’s questionable methodology.
Still, the agency vowed to review its internal procedures.
“We will take a hard look at the way we do business,” EAC officials said in an April 11 statement. “We will examine both the manner in which we have awarded contracts and our decision-making process regarding the release of research and reports.
But Feinstein, chairwoman of the Rules and Administration Committee, and Durbin were not persuaded. Durbin, who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government, said the agency has a responsibility to provide unedited versions of taxpayer-financed studies free from the influence of partisan politics.
Along with more than 15 other detailed questions, Durbin and Feinstein asked:
“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?”
Feinstein and Durbin’s inquiry also stems from an article in Wednesday’s New York Times that claimed the commission massaged the findings of a voting fraud study, which appeared to conclude — despite widespread suspicion from voting rights advocates — that very little polling-place mischief actually occurs. The EAC revised the report, the Times piece claimed, to suggest that the pervasiveness of voter fraud remained open to debate.
“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,” Feinstein said in a statement. “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.”