What will be behind that curtain in 2016? Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
What will be behind that curtain in 2016? Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

I didn’t know this -- did you? Republican obstruction of yet another federal commission is preventing states from buying better voting machines, making long lines and other election administration failures more likely in 2014 and 2016. The Election Assistance Commission, a bipartisan commission created after the 2000 presidential election to improve voting mechanics, hasn't updated its voting machine standards since 2005.

"Compliance is voluntary under federal law, but the vast majority of states require election officials to follow the EAC standards. The only approved voting machines were built in 2005 or earlier; imagine being stuck using a laptop that old, and you’ll have an idea of what elections administrators are facing. The software is usually proprietary, meaning you can’t just go online and get an update. If a machine breaks down, there’s no easy fix; instead, it most likely has to be replaced -- and voting machines are not sold at Best Buy. The jurisdictions that need new equipment -- and could afford it without federal help -- are stuck choosing among machines that were designed a decade ago."

So explains Abby Rapoport, who has a terrific item on the EAC failure and its consequences. The problem has familiar roots. Each party is supposed to appoint two commissioners to the commission. But Senate Republicans have blocked the Democratic nominees, and even if the post-nuclear Senate will now be able to confirm them, Republicans are refusing to nominate anyone for their own two seats -- leaving the commission unable to act.

In other words, this is another instance of the “new nullification,” in which Republican obstruction is used not to prevent a bill from passing or to delay or kill a particular nomination, but to prevent part of the government from functioning at all.

As Rapoport makes clear, this isn’t about federal spending. It appears, according to her reporting, to have turned into a bait-and-switch in which the federal government promised the states (voluntary!) standards, many states arranged themselves to abide by those standards, and then Republicans prevented those standards from being updated.

"Both sides of the aisle continue to think of ways to run elections better,” Rapoport wrote, but the bottom line is that Republican election reform always consists of raising hurdles to voting, not efforts to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to vote. The U.S. already makes voting incredibly difficult in the best of circumstances; due to the frequency of elections and often lengthy ballots, dedicated American voters make more choices in a four-year cycle than voters in most democracies make over a lifetime. There’s really no excuse for making it harder than it has to be. At least, not if one values democracy.

And: nice catch!