This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Emerson (R-MO) to H.R. 3081, the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Election Assistance Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Small Business Administration and many other federal government operations. The amendment would have reduced the amount for state grants to be awarded by the Election Assistance Commission to the $50 million level that was requested by President Obama, from the $100 million figure that was in the bill. The Commission is responsible for developing guidelines for voting systems and for making grants to states to help implement changes in those systems. In the 2000 presidential election, more than two million ballots were ruled ineligible because they registered multiple votes, or did not register any vote, when run through vote-counting machines.
Rep. Emerson is the Ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee subcommittee that developed H.R. 3081 and generally supported the funding levels in the bill. She began her remarks about her amendment by saying that she does respect “the need for election reform and certainty in the election process.” She went on to say that free and fair elections are “a hallmark of our democracy, and we must always work to safeguard our elections.” Emerson then gave as her reason for offering the amendment that this is “one account that has a demonstrated lack of funding needs for the coming fiscal year. Even the President recognized the opportunity to save the taxpayer $50 million.”
Emerson pointed to the fact that 62% of the states had not yet applied for their fiscal year 2008 funds under this grant program, She also noted that, of the $115 million provided in fiscal year 2008, only about 20% of the funds have been obligated; and of the $100 million provided for state grants in fiscal year 2009, less than 4% had been given out. Emerson then said that “we have almost $186 million still sitting in the Treasury for these grants. I see little need to provide another $100 million in unused funds to then get to a total of $286 million in untapped funds.”
Rep. Holt (D-NJ) opposed the amendment. He said “(N)othing is more important in a democracy than the integrity of the democratic process. Everything we do in this body is based on the assumption that the voters put us here as the result of a fair, accessible, and accuracy of the voting process. If there is anything we should not shortchange, it is our ability to conduct the most exemplary elections in the world. And we have not reached that standard yet.”
Holt then noted that “the major national election official organizations and more than 25 civil rights, disability rights and other public interest groups have asserted that local jurisdictions still need all the funding . . . .” Among those organizations were the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Association of Secretaries of State, which is comprised of the state officials typically responsible for administering voting.
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 172-250. One hundred and fifty-seven Republicans and fifteen Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and thirty-five Democrats and fifteen Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the funds for the state grants from the Election Assistance Commission remained at the level that was in H.R. 3081.