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Tuesday, April 5, 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

The November 2000 presidential election made previously obscure details of election administration the focus of state and federal legislative action. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA, P.L. 107-252) was enacted in 2002, and states have made additional changes to election laws and procedures since then. HAVA created the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), set requirements for various aspects of election administration, and provided federal funding. The law did not supplant state and local control over election administration, but several election reform issues have arisen or persisted subsequently. HAVA promoted the use of electronic voting systems to facilitate voting by persons with disabilities, but those systems raised concerns about security and reliability that led many states to enact laws requiring voter-verifiable paper ballot records. Support for the EAC has eroded among some observers, who have criticized it for being too obtrusive, or for being slow, ineffectual, or even unnecessary. 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 than prevent fraud. Similarly, while HAVA’s voter-registration requirement may have improved that process, some have argued for more automated systems. Concerns about inadvertent disenfranchisement of military and overseas voters led to legislation to correct those problems. Finally, the Obama Administration and others have argued that no additional federal funds should be expended to assist states in meeting HAVA requirements because large sums previously appropriated remain unexpended.

Altogether, more than $3.5 billion of federal funds has been appropriated through FY2010 under various HAVA authorities: about $3.3 billion in election reform payments to states; $130 million for the EAC and various programs it administers; and another $130 million in accessibility payments to states, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. For FY2011, the President’s budget request included $16.8 million for the EAC but no 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 similar amounts. However, the EAC has been operating at FY2010 funding levels since September 30, 2010, under a series of continuing resolutions. For FY2012, the Administration requested $13.7 million for the EAC, with no funding for election reform payments.

Numerous bills to amend HAVA have been considered in Congress. One has been enacted that made a minor change to the law. 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).

In the 112
th Congress, H.R. 235 (Kevin Brady) includes provisions that would terminate, upon enactment, the EAC’s authority to make requirements payments to the states, rescind unobligated requirements payments as of enactment, and terminate the EAC. H.R. 672 (Harper) would amend HAVA to eliminate the EAC and transfer its functions to the Federal Election Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Date of Report: March 16, 2011
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RS20898
Price: $29.95

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