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Friday, January 21, 2011

The Help America Vote Act and Elections Reform: Overview and Issues

Kevin J. Coleman
Analyst in Elections

Eric A. Fischer
Senior Specialist in Science and Technology

Since the November 2000 presidential election, previously obscure details of voting and vote counting have been the focus of ongoing public attention and legislative action at the state and federal levels. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA, P.L. 107-252) was enacted in October 2002, and the states have made additional changes to election laws and procedures since then. Numerous bills to amend HAVA have been considered in the Congress as well, although only one has been enacted that made a minor change to the law. HAVA created a new federal agency (the Election Assistance Commission), set requirements for various aspects of election administration, and provided federal funding. However, the law did not supplant state and local control over election administration.

In the 112
th Congress, H.R. 235 includes provisions that would terminate, upon enactment, the Election Assistance Commission’s (EAC) authority to make requirements payments to the states, rescind unobligated requirements payments as of enactment, and terminate the EAC.

The 111
th Congress enacted a new military and overseas citizens voting law that was signed into law in October 2009 as part of the defense authorization act (P.L. 111-84). The House passed H.R. 512, which would prohibit a state’s chief election official from actively participating in a federal election campaign, unless the official or an immediate family member was the candidate. The bill passed the House on September 29, 2010, but died in the Senate. A number of election reform bills were reported in the House as well. The reported bills would have established universal absentee voting (H.R. 1604), provided grants for voluntary absentee ballot tracking (H.R. 2510), and made improvements to military voting procedures (H.R. 2393).

For FY2011, the President’s budget request includes $16.8 million for the EAC but does not include new funding for election reform payments to the states. The Senate Appropriations Committee (S.Rept. 111-238) and the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee recommended the same amount for the EAC, with no election reform payments to the states. The EAC has been operating under FY2010 funding levels since September 30, 2010, when the first (P.L. 111-242) of four continuing resolutions was signed into law. The second through the fourth continuing resolutions extended the expiration date of P.L. 111-242, now set to expire on March 4, 2011.

For FY2010, the President’s budget request included $16.5 million for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and $106 million for election reform payments to states. The House and Senate bills (H.R. 3170, S. 1432) would have provided about the same amount for the EAC; the House bill would have provided nearly the same amount for election payments, while the Senate bill called for $52 million in election payments. The Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 3288), which was signed by the President on December 16, 2009, included $17.9 million for the EAC and $75 million for election reform programs.

In the 110
th Congress, election reform issues included HAVA funding, paper audit trails for electronic voting systems, military and overseas voting, and deceptive practices and voter intimidation in elections. The House approved two bills and the Senate approved one, but none were enacted. The House passed H.R. 1281, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007, on June 25, 2008, and H.R. 6625, the Veteran Voting Support Act, on September 17. The Senate passed S. 3073, the Military Voting Protection Act of 2008, on October 1, 2008.

Date of Report: January 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RS20898
Price: $29.95

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