You’ve heard a lot in recent years about the administrative state—government agencies that are hard to hold accountable because Congress delegates them enormous power, judges give them great deference, and in some cases they are formally independent of the president. Many of these—among them the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Election Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission—are led by bipartisan groups of Senate-confirmed commissioners who exercise their collective authority by voting on matters that come before them.
Although these agencies have different missions, they have one thing in common: the requirement of a majority vote. That should leave no room for political or bureaucratic influence. But those who are impatient to further their policies have developed workarounds. At the Federal Trade Commission, there is controversy over “zombie” or “ghost” votes, in which departing commissioners vote on matters not yet finalized when their term ends. At the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the chairman resigned after other members conducted a vote without her.