New Voting Commission Seeks More Funding
By Erica Werner
May 12, 2004
Members of a new federal voting commission appealed to
Congress Wednesday to double their budget, arguing that the
extra cash would allow them to help states run more efficient elections.
"We've promulgated no rules. We've worked hard to get
stationery, office space, business cards. We've had one
public hearing," DeForest B. Soaries, chairman of the
Election Assistance Commission, told a House Appropriations
President Bush's budget proposal gives the fledgling
commission $10 million for operations in fiscal 2005. Soaries asked
lawmakers for an additional $10 million for research and
data collection so the commission could provide states with
guidelines on voting systems in time for the 2006 elections.
"Those standards cannot be established without proper
research," said Soaries, who noted that the extra money could come from $40
million in Bush's fiscal 2005 budget request for states to spend on
Several Republicans and Democrats were receptive to the
"Research and development I think needs to happen ...
but you have to have the resources to do that. It's
certainly not in the budget," said Rep. Todd Tiahrt,
The four-member, bipartisan Election Assistance Commission
was created by the 2002 Help America Vote Act passed after
the disputed 2000 election in Florida. The act was intended
to make voting easier and more secure by helping states
update equipment and replace punchcard and lever machines,
among other measures.
The Election Assistance Commission was designated to give
federal money to states, and advise states and localities on
technology, election standards and other steps to improve
But the commission got off to a slow start. Slated to be in
place by February 2003, commissioners weren't appointed until last
The commission was given a $10 million budget in fiscal 2004
- but only $1.2 million was appropriated. That left the
panel struggling to rent office space - a cost the General
Services Administration ultimately waived.
Still, the commission has achieved one of its goals. It is
prepared to distribute $2.3 billion to states to buy new voting-booth
equipment and make other improvements. The money should go out beginning
this week, Soaries said.
Commissioners had to wait 45 days after publishing state
spending plans in the federal register, which happened in
About $650 million already has been provided to states. The
money is from $3.86 billion authorized in the Help America
Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., expressed surprise that the
commission planned to distribute the money without having
conducted research on voting system guidelines.
"We're going to distribute $2.3 billion to them now and
we haven't done a bit of the research, none of the research,
that would have helped them make the best possible
decision?" Olver said.
"That's an accurate description," Soaries said.
"I don't know what else to say," Olver said.
"Welcome to our world," Soaries replied.