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Photo: Heikki Saukkomaa/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump has nominated Donald Palmer, a former elections official from Virginia, to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the independent commission tasked with helping states update and improve their elections' security.

Why it matters: The commission is unable to take policy action, such as updating technical guidelines for voting systems’ security, unless it has three commissioners — a problem Palmer would solve if confirmed.

The nomination came after House Speaker Paul Ryan recommended Palmer earlier this year to Trump, AshLee Strong, Ryan’s spokeswoman, told Axios.

The big picture: The EAC’s very existence often hangs in the balance. Republicans introduced legislation in Congress to eliminate it in February 2017. In the 114th Congress, a measure was introduced to eliminate the EAC altogether.

  • It’s funding has been at risk as well: House-passed appropriations bills for FY2014 and FY2015 would have been defunded the commission.
  • The EAC's total funding has been decreasing since a high point in 2008, per the Congressional Research Service:
Expand chart
Data: Congressional Research Service; Chart: Kerrie Vila/Axios

The backdrop: Not having enough commissioners to move forward on policy issues is a problem the EAC has had for several years. For most of the time period between 2011 and 2015 EAC did not have any commissioners, according to the CRS.

  • Most recently, it’s been without a quorum of three since a former commissioner’s term wasn’t renewed earlier this year at a crucial moment in the buildup to the midterm elections. That commissioner, Matt Masterson, instead took on an election security role at the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Right now the EAC is working through the process of updating the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines. Sources describe the process as glacially slow and don't expect the new guidelines to be approved anytime soon.

His background: Palmer has worked on the EAC's advisory boards, including the Standards Board Executive Board and the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, where he currently serves as a fellow on its Democracy Project.

  • In addition to acting as an elections official in Virginia, he has worked as Florida's director of elections, a trial attorney at the Department of Justice in the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division, and a U.S. Navy intelligence officer, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The intrigue: Palmer's resume could invoke critiques from voting rights advocates. ThinkProgress, a progressive news website, claims he was involved in the use of a Crosscheck system in 2013 to remove 57,000 voters from Virginia's rolls whose registration data matched that of someone in a different state. In 2014 he backed a move to use a voter ID law two weeks before a special election took place, according to The Washington Post.

Go deeper

Trump grants flurry of last-minute pardons

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty

President Trump issued 73 pardons and commuted the sentences of 70 individuals early Wednesday, 11 hours from leaving office.

Why it matters: It's a last-minute gift to some of the president's loyalists and an evident use of executive power with only hours left of his presidency. Axios reported in December that Trump planned to grant pardons to "every person who ever talked to me."

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump revokes ethics order barring former aides from lobbying

Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty

Shortly after pardoning members of Congress and lobbyists convicted on corruption charges, President Trump revoked an executive order barring former officials from lobbying for five years after leaving his administration.

Why it matters: The order, which was signed eight days after he took office, was an attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to "drain the swamp."

  • But with less than 12 hours left in office, Trump has now removed those limitations on his own aides.

Trump pardons former GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy

President Trump has pardoned Elliott Broidy, a former top Republican fundraiser who pleaded guilty late last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws as part of a campaign to sway the administration on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests.

Why it matters: Broidy was a deputy finance chair for the Republican National Committee early in Trump’s presidency, and attempted to leverage his influence in the Trump administration on behalf of his clients. The president's decision to pardon Broidy represents one last favor for a prominent political ally.