The Commonwealth’s former chief election official was grilled by Democrats during a Senate hearing as President Donald Trump‘s nominee to the Election Assistance Committee (EAC). Donald Palmer was appointed secretary of the Virginia Board of Elections by former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) in 2011 and served until July 2014.
According to The Hill, Congress is looking to add both Palmer and Benjamin Hovland, former chief counsel with the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, to the committee with plans for a vote on their nominations next week so the EAC can have a quorum and is able to make major policy decisions.
Palmer has also served in the past as the Florida Department of State’s director of elections during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. Since 2009, he has served on Election Assistance Commission advisory boards, including the Standards Board Executive Board, and the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, representing the National Association of State Election Directors, according to his bio as a fellow for the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). Prior to his work in election administration, he served as a trial attorney with the Voting Section in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, where he enforced federal voting laws and provided guidance to states on election compliance.
Although both Trump nominees say their potential work as EAC officials will include reviewing the agency’s voluntary voting standards to make sure they are up to date and include the necessary best practices, they have given differing responses as to whether they believe widespread voter fraud is an issue.
Palmer argued that the focus of the EAC should not be on the degree of voter fraud, but instead on ideas for how to eliminate fraud altogether.
“When candidates come to us, they don’t ask us, ‘Was it a little bit of fraud or was there lot of fraud?’” he said. “They want to have clean and pure elections.”
This has sparked anxiety in Democrats as the former McDonnell and current Trump appointee to overseeing elections is said by some in the liberal party to engage in deliberate efforts to disenfranchise voters. Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia said in an interview with NPR that “He repeatedly disregarded safeguards to ensure that every eligible voter has a say,”
She added, “I honestly can’t think of anyone who is less qualified to oversee the security of America’s elections.”
As head of elections for Virginia in 2013, Palmer oversaw the removal of almost 40,000 people from Virginia’s voter rolls. He has stated that many were “duplicate voters” that were registered in multiple states. Democrats sued to prevent further purges from the voting roll, but a federal judge sided against the Democrats, saying they presented “no evidence of any individual who has been deprived of their right to vote.”
Nevertheless, Palmer told the Senate committee – on which Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) sits but was not in attendance – that he is committed to expelling voter fraud. Palmer said there will be similarities between how he worked his previous posts and how he will act when confirmed to the EAC. He explained that he will work to improve training, update technology, and share best practices.
“I will approach the job as a commissioner very similar to the way I approached as a state election official,” he said.