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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Friday, September 15
A Worrisome Nominee to the EAC
The White House has announced its intended nominee for the Republican slot on the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) being vacated by departing Chairman Paul DeGregorio. The prospective commissioner is Caroline C. Hunter, who is currently Deputy Director of the Office of Public Liaison at the White House. The press release announcing this intended nomination describes Ms. Hunter as follows:
Ms. Hunter currently serves as Deputy Director of the Office of Public Liaison at the White House. Prior to this, she served as Executive Officer of the Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman at the Department of Homeland Security. Earlier in her career, she served as Deputy Counsel of the Republican National Committee. Ms. Hunter received her bachelor's degree from Pennsylvania State University and her JD from the University of Memphis.
Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), the EAC consists of four commissioners, two of whom are Democrats and two of whom are Republicans. Ms. Hunter would be appointed for a four-year term as one of the two Republican appointees.

What's troubling about this announcement, at first blush, is that it's not clear that Ms. Hunter possesses the qualifications for the job. All of the prior EAC commissioners, Democrats and Republicans alike, have been people with substantial relevant experience. Republican Commissioners Donetta Davidson and Paul DeGregorio, for example, were previously election officials at the state and local level for years. The EAC's current executive director, Tom Wilkey, is also someone with many years experience in election administration. Former EAC Vice-Chair Ray Martinez practiced administrative law -- clearly relevant experience for someone helping to get a new administrative agency started -- and had worked with state elected officials as Deputy Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs. Current Democratic Commissioner Gracia Hillman has a long history of promoting voting rights, including work with the League of Women Voters and the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation.

I don't know Ms. Hunter personally and have never heard of her before. My attempts to find out information about her through the internet have yielded nothing of much relevance (though I did find this letter which she wrote on behalf of the RNC in 2003, telling TV stations to stop running an DNC advertisement critical of the President). It is certainly possible that there is something of which I'm not aware -- something not listed in the bio released by the White House -- that qualifies her for the job. But if not, there's reason to be concerned that this is someone who's being appointed not for her qualifications, but rather to look out for the political interests of the party to which she belongs.

It would be most unfortunate if this turned out to be the case. That is especially true, since this is a delicate period in the development of the EAC given the recent spat over Arizona's voter registration requirements, which I've discussed here and here. This dispute broke the EAC's tradition, up to that point, of operating by bipartisan consensus. The worry is that the EAC will become an agency in which the commissioners view their roles as protecting the interests of their parties, rather than promoting a better functioning election system as HAVA originally promised. That would likely lead to stalemates along party lines, which would effectively paralyze the EAC and destroy its ability to serve as an effective instrument for election reform.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University