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Another roster of ideas for a Federal Election Commission revamp

A prominent progressive political reform group is out with proposals designed to end the dysfunction that's come to define the agency charged with regulating federal campaign finance law.

The recommendations issued this week by the Brennan Center for Justice include legislation to address the Federal Election Commission's well-documented voting gridlock, improve its leadership and give investigative teeth to an agency created to enforce campaign finance law.

"This is a moment where democracy reform is front and center, and FEC reform is something that we must tackle if we want to have a more functional electoral process," said Daniel Weiner, the author of the recommendations, which are directed at Congress.

The five specific ideas are:

  • End the mandatory partisan split. The FEC now has six seats, reserved equally for Republicans and Democrats on the theory that such a balance prevents partisanship from dominating the agency's work. But it now has just four commissioners, two from each party, and obtaining a majority for any proposal has proved nearly impossible. Shrinking the commission to five members, with one a political independent, would help break the partisan deadlock.
  • Make the vetting of nominees more inclusive. To ensure qualified FEC commissioners, the president would be required to convene an advisory panel from both parties to help choose nominees.
  • Give the commission a real leader. The chairmanship now rotates annually. Handing the gavel to a person the president chooses, as is the case at most federal regulatory agencies, would give the party in the White House a bit of an edge.
  • Eliminate indefinite holdovers. Commissioners are supposed to serve a single six-year term. Yet each of the current members has been in office more than a decade because a member may remain until a replacement wins Senate confirmation.
  • Overhaul the enforcement process. This proposal would create an enforcement bureau with investigative power, allow the agency to conduct random audits of fundraising committees and increase the agency budget to improve its staffing and resources.
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Election security efforts should be expanded to cover the vendors who provide the equipment and other systems used to record and count votes, according to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice. Here a Miami-Dade County election worker checks voting machines for accuracy.

Election equipment vendors should face more security oversight, report argues

Efforts to fend off election hackers in 2020 and beyond have revolved around protecting ballot equipment and the databases of registered voters. Little attention has been focused on the vendors and their employees.

But the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice is proposing that the vendors who make election equipment and related systems be subjected to heightened oversight and vetting, much like defense contractors or others involved in national security.

"There is almost no federal regulation of the vendors that design and maintain the systems that allow us to determine who can vote, how they vote, or how their votes are counted and reported," according to a new report from the nonpartisan policy institute.

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