Third Party & Independents Archives

Don't Expect The Help America Vote Act To Do Much Good, At Least Not Yet: Part One: Problems With The States and Federal Government

Enacted in 2002 the Help America Vote Act or HAVA was meant to strengthen the electoral process. Specifically after the irregularities which occurred during the 2000 presidential election in Florida, HAVA was concerned with eliminating voter purges.

Now nearly four years since its enactment the success of HAVA is up in the air, with many of its components not fully enacted by the states, federal funding not fully forthcoming, serious security issues, and questions concerning provisional ballots.

The Help America Vote Act was enacted largely to put a system in place which would protect against the type of confusion which occurred in Florida in 2000. However much of the heart of HAVA has yet to see light due to many states dragging their feet on the issue. HAVA’s ultimate success, or lack thereof, could likely rely heavily on the attitude of the states towards the act’s provisions.

To this point many states have taken a slow approach towards implementing HAVA. According to Doug Chapin, director of electiononline.org, a month after the January 1st 2006 deadline approximately half of the states had failed to meet at least one of the act’s requirements (1). One such deadline was for states to create statewide voter registration databases, yet at the January 1st deadline ten states had failed to meet this requirement (2).

As of today two states, Alabama and New York, have been sued by the Department of Justice for not meeting the requirements involving the creation of voter registration databases (3). In fact New York waited until May of 2005 to even pass the law that would allow the state to begin working on a voter registration database (4). At the January 1st 2006 deadline Stanley Zalen, co-executive director of the New York Board of Elections, stated that “for now, we’re at least a year away, if not longer” (5).

Currently the penalties for missing a deadline are up in the air. According to election law expert Edward Still failing to set up a statewide voter registration database will not result in the return of federal funds, as he argues that “the HAVA reforms would simply not happen” if federal funds were taken away (6). Still reasons that noncompliance will most likely instead result in states having to draw up plans to meet the goals of HAVA, and if states, like New York and Alabama, continue to refuse to comply Secretaries of State could be held in contempt of court (7).

Problems involving states failing to meet provisions set out in HAVA have occurred in nearly every state and on nearly every provision set by Congress. According to a study conducted by the National Association of Secretaries of State nineteen states failed to meet the January 1st 2006 deadline to replace punch-card and lever based voting machines (8). Again HAVA requires states be in compliance to continue to get federal funds, however it is unlikely that any states funding will be revoked. To this point the implementation, and thus the ultimate success, of HAVA has been taken lightly by the states.

The states have not been the only governmental entities to hold back the goals of HAVA; the federal government has done its part as well. Since its inception their have been problems with funding, delays in implementation, as well as varying opinions on the goals of the legislation.

Originally HAVA authorized $3.65 billion in funding to states towards replacement of punch-card and lever operated voting machines, establishment of statewide voter registration databases, and implementation of the legislation’s many other provisions (9). Yet since that time federal funding has not been so generous, in 2003 Congress authorized $660 million less than had originally been authorized when HAVA was passed (10). Shortly after the deadline of January 1st 2006 states had hoped to see $600 million in funding, that had been authorized in HAVA, to help them come up to par this year, however as of February these funds had not yet been appropriated (11).

Some in the states have given up on receiving new funds from Congress after hearing that President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2007 budget proposal proposed no new funding for HAVA implementation (12). Susan Parnas Frederick, senior committee director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, had this to say on the likelihood of new appropriations “What I’ve heard is don’t come knocking on the door for any more money… We’ve been told from every angle that there’s no more money available. It would be a waste of time to go back to people who just keep telling us no” (13).

Outside of providing funds to the states, the federal government moved slowly in setting up the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which was mandated to help states implement HAVA. HAVA originally called for the EAC’s creation no more than one hundred and twenty days after the laws passage (14). Congress delayed however and the EAC did not begin to function until the end of 2003, a full year after the passage of HAVA (15). This delay undoubtedly had an affect on the ability of the state’s to begin to implement the law, and thus on the success of the law.

Implementation of HAVA has been further complicated by problems involving the EAC. Since it’s founding the EAC has suffered through an extremely restrictive small budget (16). Until recently the EAC was not receiving the funding necessary for it to help states implement HAVA, resulting in some states implementing the law in manners that restrict ballot access (17).

A further display of problems with the EAC became apparent when its first chairman DeForest Soaries resigned after less than a year and a half. Upon his resignation Soaries claimed that sufficient support for the EAC was not shown by either the administration or Congress (18). Soaries further clarified this lack of support by stating that, “All four of us had to work without staff, without offices, without resources. I don’t think our sense of personal obligation has been matched by a corresponding sense of commitment to real reform from the federal government” (19). Without an EAC that is well funded and supported it is unlikely the implementation of HAVA will become any type of uniform success.

Works Cited:
1. “States Fail to Meet Voting Reform Deadlines,” Congress Daily, February 7, 2006, 8.

2.Ibid.

3. Dan Seligson, “The HAVA Lawsuits,” Campaigns & Elections, 27 (5) (June 2006): 54

4. Mindy M. Moretti, “Voting Machine Deadline Arrives,” Campaigns & Elections, 27 (1) (Feb. 2006): 38

5. Ibid.

6. Seligson, “The HAVA Lawsuits”

7. Ibid.

8. Moretti, “Voting Machine Deadline Arrives”

9. Eric A. Fischer, “Election Reform and Electronic Voting Systems (DREs): Analysis of Security Issues,”

Congressional Research Service. Available at http://www.epic.org/privacy/voting/crsreport.pdf

10. Sarah Tobias, “Mocking Democracy? Implementing the Help America Vote Act,” National Civic Review,

92 (4) (Winter 2003).

11. Alyson Klein, “Bush Budget Provides No New Help for Election Changes,” Congress Daily, Feb 17,

2006, 3.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Sarah Tobias, “HAVA or Havoc?” National Civic Review, 94 (1) (Spring 2005)

15. Ibid.

16. Jonah H Goldman, “Partisanship, Problems, and Promise,” Human Rights: Journal of the Section of

Individual Rights and Responsibilities, 32 (2) (Spring 2005)

17. Ibid.

18. "Election Commission Member Quits, Citing Lack of Support,” Congress Daily, April 22, 2005, 6.

19. Ibid.

Posted by Richard Rhodes at August 13, 2006 1:47 PM
Comments
Comment #175327

You are on a roll. Another good article.

One can’t help but wonder about the lack of action (even resistance) to implement common-sense, no-brainer procedures. What isn’t clear is whether it is merely incompetence or ulterior motives?

With elections as close as some we have seen, the following are not laughing matters:

  • voting fraud

  • voting errors

  • malfunctioning voting equipment

  • voting by illegal aliens

  • gerrymandering

  • no way to verify one’s vote

Seems to me, that each voter could receive a randomly generated number that could be recorded in a newspaper (or web-page) and allow a user to verify their vote(s)? Otherwise, how does anyone know their vote was actually recorded or recorded accurately? With computerization, it shouldn’t be that hard to do, and it would reduce a lot of voter fraud.

But, of course, that would make too much sense, and your 6th Principle of Government is clearly sabotaging any common-sense, no-brainer reforms to improve the voting systems. It you want something completely abused and mucked-up, then rely on the government to do it … they are experts.

  • Posted by: d.a.n at August 13, 2006 4:49 PM
    Comment #175337

    Thanks d.a.n. Most of the issues you mentioned, especially problems with voting machines and verifying ones vote will be discussed in future parts of this series

    Posted by: Richard Rhodes at August 13, 2006 6:38 PM
    Comment #175450

    How very sad to see so little interest in the protection and preservation of our voting rights that many risked and sacrificed life and limb to secure.

    And, what ever came of all the voter fraud in 2000 and 2004 ? Few (if any) were held accountable?

    Had this thread been about flag burning, stem cell research, or American Idol, the comment counter would probably be in the triple digits by now.

    I’m beginning to think blogging has replaced activism. Too many sheople seem willing to talk endlessly about problems and solutions, but unwilling to take action. Too many had rather fuel the partisan warfare. We’d better watch out, before our votes become meaningless.

    Posted by: d.a.n at August 14, 2006 2:34 PM
    Comment #175625

    Our solution (i.e. voting), when we finally have the motivation (i.e. pain and misery), is now threatened, as voter fraud grows, and more and more illegal aliens are voting in our elections.

    About 90% of congress are long term incumbents. Many have been there for decades. Perhaps voters will, someday, see the connection between that high re-election rate and our pressing problems that continue to grow in number and severity?

    83% of all federal campaign donations ($200 or larger) come from a mere 0.1% of the U.S. population. How can the remaining 99.9% of the U.S. population compete with that? Government is FOR SALE, and the average American does not realize they are being out-spent. When 99.9% of Americans send in their $20, $50, $100 (under $200) campaign contribution, do they realize how little influence they have?

    A better, less expensive, way to influence government and make it more responsible is to simply stop re-electing irresponsible incumbent politicians. That’s what we were supposed to do all along, always. The 99.9% of Americans may get out-spent, but not out numbered. Stop trying to out-spend the vastly wealthy, because that’s not working. A tiny 1% of the U.S. population has 40% of all weatlh (never worse since the Great Depression of 1929).

    Government should not be FOR SALE.
    There are two classes in this country. One class derives concentrated power from its concentrated wealth, and the other class has power only in numbers, and that power is largely ineffective due to their inability to mobilize through organization. The sheople continue to overlook the one simple mechanism right under their very own noses to balance the power between government and The People (not merely shift power or strip all power from government to accomplish anything).

    Posted by: d.a.n at August 15, 2006 11:42 AM
    Comment #175777

    d.a.n.- Thank you for your comments, but the fact is that I have seen this before and people have the choice to read and comment on what they want. It seems they don’t want to read or comment on academic articles. As every single one of my academic articles, meaning pieces that originally were written for the purposes of academia so far the John Kerry series (my first series, which looks at John Kerry like you have never seen before because the ‘left’ never spoke bad of John Kerry because they hated Bush so much and thus John Kerry was able to get the Democratic nomination without any dissent, and personally I see this as my greatest writing), the cannabis prohibition series, and this series have seen less comments and hits than my more random just writing about whatever I feel like at the moment posts. To me this is extremely ironic, as the academic posts I put so much more time into and are very well researched and cited, but people have the right to comment on what they want and read what they want, and if they choose not to read or comment on very well researched academic writings so be it.
    Moreover these posts are much more in depth and are unchanged, I do not change these at all from their original academic meaning, and thus are written for an academic audience and are thus much different than your average blog entry.

    So the real fact d.a.n. is not that people don’t care about voting reform. In my opinion that is not what it is, as you say. I could write a voting reform post that got way more hits and way more comments. The reason this has not been as popular of a post, which is okay with me, is because it is academic in nature and is written for a different audience than what people are used to. People do care about voting reform but alot of people just don’t want to read a academic article and that is okay, that is their right, they don’t have to read what I write they have freedom of choice. I understand academic articles are not for everyone.

    Posted by: Richard Rhodes at August 16, 2006 1:48 AM
    Comment #175898

    Hmmmm… perhaps.
    I’m not sure about sheople caring.
    Not since about 40% of eligible voters don’t even bother to vote, voter fraud gets very little publicity, and neither does Gerrymandering, and voters keep re-electing 90% of incumbents.

    Some writers seem to merely write things and choose titles that are designed to stir up things.

    Your article (above) is yet another example of government incompetence and negligence. Perhaps people have simply resigned to the futility of trying to deal with a government and burueacracy of nightmare proporations?

    Posted by: d.a.n at August 16, 2006 3:26 PM
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