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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Help America Vote Act: Overview and Issues

Kevin Coleman
Analyst in Elections

Eric A. Fischer
Senior Specialist in Science and Technology

The deadlocked November 2000 presidential election focused national attention on previously obscure details of election administration. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court had resolved the election in December, numerous bills to address the failings of the election system were introduced in Congress and state legislatures. The response at the federal level was the Help America Vote Act (HAVA; P.L. 107-252), enacted in 2002. HAVA created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), established a set of election administration requirements, and provided federal funding, but did not supplant state and local control over election administration. Several reform issues have arisen or persisted in the years since HAVA was enacted. This report provides background information about HAVA and its provisions, the EAC, funding for the agency and for state programs to improve elections, and a number of enduring election administration issues.

With respect to the newly created EAC, some observers have criticized it for being too obtrusive, or for being slow, ineffectual, or even unnecessary. Others believe that the agency is an important resource for improving the administration of elections and has been hampered by budgetary constraints and difficulties in the nomination process for commissioners. In terms of election administration, HAVA promoted the use of electronic voting systems to facilitate voting by persons with disabilities, which subsequently raised concerns about security and reliability and led many states to require voter-verifiable paper ballot records. Similarly, HAVA’s voter identification provisions did not resolve the controversy over whether more stringent requirements are needed to prevent voter fraud, or whether such requirements are more likely to disenfranchise legitimate voters. Finally, while HAVA’s voter-registration requirement may have improved that process, some have argued for more automated systems in the years since the requirement took effect.

Altogether, more than $3.5 billion of HAVA funds were appropriated through FY2010: about $3.14 billion in election reform payments to states, $130 million for the EAC and its programs, and $130 million in accessibility payments to states, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. Numerous bills to amend HAVA have been considered in Congress, but none have been enacted. Two bills relevant to the EAC’s status were introduced in the 112
th Congress. H.R. 3463 was passed in the House in December 2011 and would have eliminated the EAC, transferred its responsibilities to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and terminated the program that provides taxpayer financing of presidential election campaigns. No further action occurred on that bill. Another bill concerning the EAC, H.R. 1937, would have extended authorization of the agency through FY2016, made adjustments to EAC programs and activities, and required the Government Accountability Office to analyze ways to improve the agency.

Thus far in the 113
th Congress, two bills (H.R. 260 and H.R. 1994) have been introduced to eliminate the EAC and two (H.R. 12 and H.R. 2017) have been introduced that would extend authorization of the agency for five years.

Date of Report: October 21, 2013
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: RS20898
Price: $29.95

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