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The Help America Vote Act

The nation’s primary federal legislation governing elections, passed in the aftermath of the 2000 debacle, has had a significant impact on voting procedures in the United States.  Century’s publications evaluate how HAVA has worked and ideas for reform.


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  • TCF Fellow Tova Wang is the author of the  forthcoming Century Foundation book published by Cornell University Press, The Politics of Voter...
    Dec 28, 2011
  • It was a roller coaster of a year in the area of election reform and voting rights. Yet hopes are high for better times in the year to come for the cause of advancing political participation.
    Dec 25, 2006
  • 7:00 PM: I’m still here at the Election Protection operation, spearheaded by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and as we expected, there are problems throughout the country concerning voter identification.
    Nov 6, 2006
  • As most people have heard by now, there is a potentially explosive combination of conditions brewing this election year that could boil over in some places on election day. The convergence of close elections, tremendous political ramifications, new voting machines and new voting rules could mean major problems both at the polls and after they close. What everyone wants to know is this: where are the biggest fires most likely to break out?
    Nov 5, 2006
  • Commentary: Voter ID Deja Vu
    Voter identification has become one of the hottest topics in the debate over election reform, both in Congress and in states across the country. The rationale for requiring photo voter identification at the polls, proponents argue, is that there is widespread fraud that must be stopped. Largely overlooked in the current tempest is the extent to which virtually the same debate has occurred again and again throughout American history since the 1800s.
    Oct 29, 2006
  • As if the citizens of Louisiana don’t have enough to be outraged about, now the federal government is denying displaced residents a full opportunity to determine their own future by preventing them from participating in the New Orleans city elections in April.
    Feb 12, 2006
  • So many grinches this year, Who-ville is more worried than ever about its democracy. The Georgia state legislature. The Department of Justice. Tom Delay. It was enough to make us believers in voting rights think we would be left with nothing under the tree. But despite a commitment to reform two sizes too small in so many quarters, there were at least some indications that 2006 might bring progress on elections after all.
    Dec 26, 2005
  • Democracy Fellow Tova Andrea Wang discusses election reform in the states at NCSL's summer conference.
    Aug 17, 2005
  • TCF Democracy Fellow Tova Andrea Wang appears at NASED's 2005 annual conference to discuss the recent working group report Balancing Access and Integrity.
    Aug 13, 2005
  • Three years and another presidential election after the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was supposed to restore confidence in American elections, we are still haunted by the ever present specter of post-election legal battles. This is largely because we have created a system that plans for resolving disputes after election day, rather than ahead of time.
    Aug 7, 2005
  • Commentary: Identity Politics
    While controversy rages across the country over whether computerized voting machines may result in lost or manipulated votes, there is another change in the election system this year that could lead to lost voting rights: Some people who show up at the polls will now have to show identification in order to cast a ballot. The federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requires first-time voters in a jurisdiction who register by mail and who do not include verification with their registration form to present identification. The identification can be a photo ID, utility bill, bank statement or government document that shows the name and address of the voter. Despite the apparent limited reach of the new requirement, there is already evidence that it could lead to disenfranchisement of minority voters in particular. Officials in South Dakota are investigating complaints from voters-primarily from counties in which Indian reservations are located-that they were not allowed to vote in the June primary when they could not produce photo identification, as is required for all voters under a recently passed South Dakota law. Although poll workers were also required by law to offer such voters affidavit ballots, they did not do so and simply turned them away. Similar complaints came out of the Ohio primary in March. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the voter empowerment coordinator for the NAACP received at least fifty phone calls from black voters who were required to present identification in Cuyahoga County - a suspiciously high number considering that, according to the Cuyahoga country board of elections, a total of only 185 voters in the whole jurisdiction were required under HAVA to present identification. A leader of the Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition also received such calls from black voters. In Mississippi, a state with a long history of creating hurdles for minority voters, a bitterly partisan dispute over enacting a voter ID requirement for all voters-not just the narrow group identified in HAVA-rekindled conflicts from the not-so-distant past about racial discrimination at the polls. Most white legislators argued that this is a sensible anti-fraud measure. But African-American legislators reminded their colleagues of the barriers minority voters have had to overcome throughout American history, especially in the South, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. The voter identification requirement, they said, represents a new obstacle that is likely to fall disproportionately on minority voters. Mississippi blacks remember that as recently as 1993, the governor wanted to require people registering under the new motor-voter law-intended to make registration easier for minorities-to show identification. There are many ways an ID requirement can be used to disqualify people from voting. For example, poll workers might-purposely or inadvertently-fail to give voters the complete list of alternative nonphoto IDs HAVA allows the voter to present. Also, any person who cannot present acceptable identification is supposed to be offered an affidavit or provisional ballot. But that may not happen-as in the South Dakota case-or even if it does, depending on state law and whether the voter voted in the right precinct, that ballot might not be counted. In addition, other voters might not have the kind of identification required by the law. For example, it is not unusual for only one spouse to be listed on household bills or for low-income people, senior citizens, people with disabilities and students not to have driver's licenses, bank accounts or paychecks. States can spell out in their implementation rules the many types of documents that can be construed to meet this requirement. In California, the Secretary of State has said this includes such items as a student ID card, public housing ID card, drug prescription or tax return. But other states may interpret the types of acceptable identification more narrowly, and some voters could simply find themselves disenfranchised. Finally, there has long been concern among civil rights advocates that election officials and poll workers might selectively enforce the Help America Vote Act identification provision-say by only asking minority voters to produce documentation. The nation is justifiably focused on the problems of the machines voters will be using this fall. In the meantime, however, let's not forget about the problems that may prevent voters from entering the booth in the first place. Tova Andrea Wang is Senior Program Officer and Democracy Fellow at The Century Foundation. This article originally appeared in the August 16, 2004 issue of The Nation.
    Aug 15, 2004
  • This week, the federal Election Assistance Commission met to discuss progress in improving the election process, including the use of federal payments to the states to modernize voting machines, increase poll worker training and recruitment, implement new registration procedures, and ensure that all who arrive at the polling site on election day are able to cast a ballot. Unfortunately, this discussion was irrelevant to the State of New York.
    Jul 14, 2004
  • A Forum on NY's Quest for New Voting Technology New York is poised to replace its antiquated fleet of voting machines. This forum will address issues associated with the change
    Jun 24, 2004
  • In an effort to respond to the 2000 presidential election debacle, President Bush in 2002 signed the Help America Vote Act. When signing the bill, he proclaimed, "When problems arise in the administration of elections, we have a responsibility to fix them."
    Feb 4, 2004
  • President Bush signed The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) with great fanfare in October 2002, but his enthusiasm for the legislation - designed mainly to prevent a replay of the Florida chad-counting melodrama that rewarded him with the presidency - always seemed more than a little contrived.
    Oct 27, 2003
  • Dec 6, 2002
  • The commission, led by former Presidents Ford and Carter, which laid much of the groundwork for the 2002 Help America Vote Act.
    Jun 30, 2001
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