Help America Vote Act

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The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) is a United States federal law signed by President George W. Bush on October 29, 2002. It was drafted and subsequently passed as a reaction to growing election administration problems, particularly during the 2000 elections. The legislation represented a significant increase of federal authority over the election process, which had traditionally and legally been the domain of states and local government. The goals of HAVA included the replacement of punch card voting systems, establishment of minimum election administration standards, and the creation of the Election Assistance Commission to assist in the administration of federal elections.



The 2000 elections were largely seen as a "fiasco" of election administration. Nearly two-million ballots were disqualified because they registered multiple votes or none when run through vote-counting machines. In response, Congress proposed the Help America Vote Act.[1]

Amendments to bill following passage

Following its 2002 passage, HAVA faced numerous criticisms, such as the contention that it lacked a "Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail" (VVPAT). [2] Several pieces of legislation were recommended to address this and other issues.

110th Congress


On February 5, 2007, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007 (H.R.811) was introduced by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.). As of late March, the legislation had 211 cosponsors.

It would:

  • Require the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology to study, test, and develop best practices to enhance the accessibility of ballot verification mechanisms for individuals with disabilities, voters whose primary language is not English, and voters with difficulties in literacy.
  • Require laboratories to meet standards prohibiting conflicts of interest as a condition of accreditation for the testing of voting system hardware and software.
  • Outline additional voting system requirements and prohibitions.
  • Extend the authorization of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC).
  • Provide for complaints to the Attorney General by persons affected by violations of HAVA.
  • Make available additional funding to enable states to meet the costs of the requirements imposed by the Act.
  • Direct the chief auditor of each state to appoint an Election Audit Board to administer, without advance notice to the precincts selected, random hand counts of the voter-verified paper ballots required to be produced and preserved for each such election held in the state.
  • Repeal the exemption of the EAC from certain government contracting requirements.[3]</blockquote>


On February 13, 2007, a similar bill, the Vote Integrity and Verification Act of 2007 (S.559), was introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in the Senate.[4]</blockquote>

109th Congress

In the 109th congress, H.R. 550 was introduced to amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require a voter-verified permanent paper record. It would require mandatory audits of a random sampling of voter precincts to increase voter confidence by reducing election administration error; endorse a study of the effectiveness of the provisions in HAVA to increase the accessibility of voting systems for the disabled; and extend the mandate of the EAC indefinitely.[5]

108th Congress

In the 108th Congress, two identical bills, S. 1980 and H.R. 2239, were introduced. It would have provided an extension of the deadline before states must comply with HAVA. It would also bind the EAC to the same competitive contracting guidelines as other federal agencies, require voter-verified paper records suitable for a manual audit, and develop best practices for enhancing access for disabled voters. The bill would also require the EAC to conduct recounts of a random sampling of jurisdictions, and to publish those results.[6][7]

Original legislation

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was signed into United States federal law by President Bush on October 29, 2002. It passed in the Senate, 96-2, and in the House, 357-48.

Senate record vote:
Help America Vote Act

January 18, 2007
Passed, 96-2, view details
Dem: 47-2-1 in favor, GOP: 44-0-5 in favor, Ind: 1 in favor

House record vote:
Help America Vote Act

October 10, 2002
Passed, 357-48, with 26 not voting, view details
Dem: 184-11-13 in favor, GOP: 172-37-13 in favor, Ind: 1-0

Replacement of punch card voting systems

The first provision of HAVA created a voluntary funding program for states that used punch card or lever voting machines in the November 2000 election. Various requirements were put on the funding including that the money would not go towards buying any new punch card or lever voting machines, and that the new voting machines would comply with federal guidelines.[8]

Establishment of the Election Assistance Commission

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) was formed, which would serve as an independent entity whose four person membership was appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. The EAC was not granted any additional federal authority except that which the federal government previously help under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Primary responsibilities of this agency include:

  • Serving as the clearinghouse of information for election administration
  • Testing and certifying voting machines
  • Guidance to states in complying with voluntary federal election guidelines
  • Administering the Help America Vote College Program
  • Administering the HAVA grant program for states
  • Providing grants and conduct research on various voting policies (i.e. vote by mail, voter ID, overseas and military voters, etc.).[9]

State plan and reporting requirements

To be eligible for the federal funding described in the bill, states would have to submit a plan describing how payments would be used and distributed, provisions for voter education and poll worker training, how to adopt voting system guidelines, performance measures to determine success (including goals, timetables, responsibilities, and criteria), administrative complaint procedures, and the committee who helped develop the state plan. These reports must be submitted to the EAC for their review.[10]

Establishing federal requirements

Voting system standards

Each polling place was instructed to have "at least one direct recording electronic voting system or other voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities." The voting system must "be accessible for individuals with disabilities, including nonvisual accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters." [11]

By January 1, 2006, all voting systems were required to produce an auditable and permanent paper record with a manual audit capacity available as an official record for any recount conducted, and also needed to provide for "second chance" voting. The system also had to allow the voter to privately and independently:

  • Verify their votes on the ballot
  • Provide the opportunity to correct any error (through issuance of a replacement ballot if necessary)
  • Be notified and have the opportunity to correct an "overvote" (casting too many votes for a particular office, usually more than one vote).[12]

Provisional voting

According to the bill, if a person arrives at a voting location claiming to be a registered voter in that jurisdiction, then by law they would be eligible to vote by provisional ballot. After the election, the appropriate state or local election official could determine whether or not the voter was eligible, and if so count the vote. HAVA also required election officials to establish a process whereby voters could follow-up after the election to ensure that their vote was counted, and that people who cast a provisional ballot to be notified of the process.[13]

Main article: Provisional voting

Computerized statewide voter registration

HAVA required states to develop a single, uniform, official, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list defined, maintained, and administered at the state level (previously voter registration lists were maintained by local officials). HAVA required the statewide list to be coordinated with other agency databases within the state. HAVA also required regular "maintenance" of the statewide list, including removals of ineligible voters and duplicate names.[14]

Voter identification

HAVA required any voter who registered to vote by mail or who had not previously voted in a federal election to show a current and valid photo identification or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document showing the name and address of the voter. Voters who submitted any of these forms of identification during registration would be exempt, as would voters entitled to vote by absentee ballot under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.[15]


HAVA also provided that polling places must have increased accessibility for individuals with disabilities. It allocated funds for access as well as outreach programs to inform individuals about the availability of accessible polling places and training election officials, poll workers, and election volunteers on how best to promote the access and participation of individuals with disabilities in elections for federal office.[16]

Youth participation

HAVA also established two programs aimed at increasing youth participation in elections. The "College Poll Worker Plan" was aimed at mobilizing college students to serve as non-partisan election administration officials. $5 million was allocated for this purpose.[17]

The second youth program created by HAVA was the "Help American Vote Foundation", which mobilizes secondary school students to work in polling places (as allowed by labor law). It also provides grants for the National Student and Parent Mock Election, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to promote voter participation in American elections to enable it to carry out voter education activities for students and their parents.[18]

Voting rights for military and overseas citizens

HAVA mandated changes improving the access of military and overseas citizens including requiring the Secretary of Defense to implement measures ensuring that a postmark or other official proof of mailing date is provided on each absentee ballot collected at any overseas location or vessel at sea. The secretary of each military division was also required to ensure that all military and their families have easy access to voting information; each state must designate a single office for providing information to overseas voters; the state must inform overseas voters of why any application for registration is rejected.[19]

Controversy and implementation


Criticisms of HAVA center around mandated changes in voting technology, voter identification, confusion and voter intimidation, misappropriation of federal funds, and unnecessarily complicating the voter registration process.

Criticisms of electronic voting machines

Critics of HAVA argue it imprudently attempts to solve one problem of punch-card voting machine errors seen in Florida in the 2000 election by replacing them with expensive electronic voting machines. The machines have been criticized for not offering a voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT). [20]

A Pennsylvania court ruled in April 2007 that voting machine certification was the result of what Judge Rochelle Friedman called "deficient examination criteria" which "do not approximate those that are customary in the information technology industry for systems that require a high level of security." The court ruled that voters have a right under the commonwealth's constitution to reliable and secure voting systems and can challenge the use of electronic voting machines "that provide no way for Electors to know whether their votes will be recognized" through voter verification or independent audit.[21]</blockquote>

ID requirements

HAVA was meant to strengthen the electoral process, and correct irregularities and voter purges such as those which occurred during the 2000 presidential election in Florida. HAVA's identification requirements, some argue, may heighten the opportunities for confusion and voter intimidation, and may reduce rather than expand the electorate. Lawmakers in some states, like Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, California and Massachusetts, have used HAVA as an opportunity to introduce legislation to enact even more rigid ID requirements.[22]

Republicans insisted upon stricter ID requirements as the price of a bipartisan bill.[23] Voter fraud is a highly polarized issue, with Republicans asserting frequent abuses and Democrats contending that the problem has been greatly exaggerated to promote voter identification laws that could inhibit the turnout of poor voters. The Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud in 2002, but despite its efforts the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews. "If they found a single case of a conspiracy to affect the outcome of a Congressional election or a statewide election, that would be significant," said Richard L. Hasen, an expert in election law at the Loyola Law School, "But what we see is isolated, small-scale activities that often have not shown any kind of criminal intent."[24]

Misappropriation of funds

The bill has also been come under fire for the fact that the majority of the billions of dollars allocated to the states for HAVA has been for increased access for disabled voters, while the main goal of HAVA, avoiding the problems that plagued the 2000 elections in Florida, has been largely ignored. [25][26]

Complicating voter registration

Critics also state that the bill contains some elements that complicate the voter registration process. For example, Section 303(a)(5) of HAVA provides that no state may accept or process a voter registration form for an election for federal office unless the application includes "in the case of an applicant who has been issued a current and valid driver's license, the applicant's driver's license number." Critics say this is costing the country millions of dollars more for an election just to process the same basic registration form and confirm that they meet the HAVA requirements.[27]

Implementation timelines and challenges

Responses to these requirements varied by state, but a widespread effect has been the purchasing of electronic voting machines, including DRE voting machines. There are criticisms of the reliability and security of these machines.

Continued purchasing of non-compliant machines
Some electronic voting machines sold through 2005, including those by Diebold Election Systems, have not met the requirements of HAVA and were required to be in compliance until Jan. 1, 2006. Concerns have been raised that as late as 2005, vendors were selling non-compliant machines to unwitting states and counties who believed that they were HAVA-compliant. Unless vendors offered a specific guarantee of HAVA compliance, equipment may have required scrapping or retrofitting at taxpayers' expense after Jan. 1, 2006.[28][29]

Timelines not met
Compliance with HAVA provisions and timelines was not met in every state, both because of the difficulty of identifying and certifying reliable HAVA compliant voting machines, and due to political and bureaucratic delays. A February 2006 report from Election Data Services found that 124 counties reported still using punch card voting systems in the 2006 election (down from 566 in 2000), similarly lever machines had decreased from 434 counties in 2000 to 119 in 2006 with New York state accounting for more than half the total number of counties still using lever machines. 69 million voters will voted with optical scan voting machines, while another 66 million used DRE voting machines. 11 million had an option in a mixed system.[30]

Continual failures in election administration

The 2006 election between Vern Buchanan and Christine Jennings was decided by 370 votes. In 17,000 to 18,000 ballots voters did not choose either candidate. In election administration terminology this is known as an 'undervote' and may indicate a failure of Sarasota counties direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 was passed to correct election administration errors, and has yet to alleviate those problems. In May of 2007 the House Committee on House Administration launched a special task force to investigate the administration of the election.[31]

Articles and resources

See also


  1. Stefan Lovgren, National Geographic: Are Electronic Voting Machines Reliable? National Geographic, November 1, 2004.
  2. Susan Llewelyn Leach, "E-voting machines' confidence gap", CS Monitor, October 04, 2004.
  3. "H.R.811 - Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007", Open Congress Accessed April 30, 2007.
  4. "S.559 - Vote Integrity and Verification Act of 2007", Open Congress Accessed April 30, 2007.
  5. "H.R. 550 109th: Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2005"
  6. "H.R. 2239 108th: Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003"
  7. "S. 1980 108th: Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003"
  8. NASS and NCSL,"Help America Vote Act of 2002 Summary" November 19, 2002.
  9. NASS and NCSL,"Help America Vote Act of 2002 Summary" November 19, 2002.
  10. NASS and NCSL,"Help America Vote Act of 2002 Summary" November 19, 2002.
  11. Demos, Recommendations on Implementation of the "Help America Vote Act" presented at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, December 19, 2002.
  12. Demos, Recommendations on Implementation of the "Help America Vote Act" presented at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, December 19, 2002.
  13. NASS and NCSL,"Help America Vote Act of 2002 Summary" November 19, 2002.
  14. NASS and NCSL,"Help America Vote Act of 2002 Summary" November 19, 2002.
  15. NASS and NCSL,"Help America Vote Act of 2002 Summary" November 19, 2002.
  16. NASS and NCSL,"Help America Vote Act of 2002 Summary" November 19, 2002.
  17. NASS and NCSL,"Help America Vote Act of 2002 Summary" November 19, 2002.
  18. Kevin J. Coleman, Eric A. Fischer, "Elections Reform: Overview and Issues," Congressional Research Service, January 21, 2004.
  19. NASS and NCSL,"Help America Vote Act of 2002 Summary" November 19, 2002.
  20. "Touchscreen machines not the cure-all some expected," CNN, October 30, 2003.
  21. Press Release, PRNewswire-USNewswire: "Court Recognizes Pennsylvania Voters' Right to Reliable, Secure Voting Machines" Drinker Biddle, April 12, 2007.
  22. Eric Lipton and Ian Urbina, "In 5-Year Effort, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud" New York Times, April 12, 2007.
  23. Miles Rapoport, "Beyond Voting Machines: HAVA and Real Election Reform" Alternet, July 30, 2003.
  24. Eric Lipton and Ian Urbina, "In 5-Year Effort, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud" New York Times, April 12, 2007.
  25. Robert Tanner,"States Struggle With Election Reform – Officials Air Doubts as Deadlines Loom," The Boston Globe, February 8, 2005.
  26. Elise Ackerman, "Blind voters rip e-machines: They Say Defects Thwart Goal Of Enfranchising Sight-Impaired," San Jose Mercury News, May 15, 2004.
  27. US Department Of Justice HAVA Letter to MN U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division,March 16, 2004.
  28. Susan Pynchon, "Diebold Touch Screens Don't Meet Disability Requirements", June 28th, 2005.
  29. "N.C. Voter: Voting Machines and Legal Standards"
  30. Kimball W. Brace, "2006 report from Election Data Services", Election Data Service, February 6, 2006
  31. Patrick O'Connor, "House to probe Fla. 13 results", Politico, May 2, 2007.

External resources

External articles