the chaotic and contentious Florida recall fight that ended up
sending the 2000 presidential election to the Supreme Court, Congress
moved to prevent any repeat of the dispute ballots, accusations
of widespread disenfranchisement and electoral uncertainty that
marred the final vote.
the situation, Congress drafted the Help America Vote Act, a federal
law aimed at improving voting systems nationwide.
was clearly the impetus," said the bill's chief sponsor,
House Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer from Maryland.
Florida was the most dramatic case of a troubled voting system,
Hoyer points out that problems occurred in other states as well.
Most of the
2000 controversy centered on punch card voting technology, which
has been used widely in the United States since the late 1960s.
the bill's cosponsor Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, decided to draft a
measure that would encourage states to get rid of punch card machines.
President Bush signed the bill into law in October 2002.
found the punch cards to be more error prone than any other of
technologies available, and clearly we were intent on getting
rid of the punch cards, but we did not
mandate any particular
for communities to choose as alternatives," Hoyer told the
law allows states and local governments to decide which technology
to use. None of the $3.9 billion HAVA funding, however, may be
used to purchase new punch card machines or to update an existing
punch card system.
to requiring states to adopt technology aimed at avoiding problems
that occurred in Florida, the law requires upgrades of voting
systems designed to remedy specific problems encountered during
The act stipulates
that voters who are not listed as registered or eligible to vote
may cast a "provisional ballot," which will be held
aside until the voter's status is determined. If the voter is
found to be registered and eligible the provisional ballot will
requires that a voter be able to review a summary of his or her
choices before casting the ballot. This "ballot review"
requirement is supposed to address voter concerns -- such as those
raised in Florida's 2000 election -- that complicated ballots
caused them to vote for the wrong candidate.
The bill also
contains provisions that require greater use and access for those
with disabilities and greater privacy for all voters.
voting technologies are available that will meet HAVA requirements,
including "optical scan" machines and "direct recording
electronic" machines or DREs.
With an optical
scan system, voters use a pen or pencil to fill out a paper ballot
similar to standardized test answer sheets familiar to most Americans.
A machine then reads each ballot and tallies the vote.
On DRE systems,
voters use electronic devices, somewhat similar to ATMs, to enter
their ballot choices. Some DRE machines also include features,
such as Braille instructions, headphones and tactile paddles,
designed to allow disabled voters to cast a ballot unassisted.
Most DRE machines,
however, do not leave an individual paper record of a voter's
ballot. Critics of the machines believe this lack of a "paper
trail" is a flaw that will make electronic voting machines
-- which they say are error prone and subject to tampering --
even more unreliable.
Holt, D-N.J., has proposed amending HAVA to require voting systems
produce a voter-verified paper version of every ballot cast, including
those cast on electronic machines.
Congress acts to pass legislation that would ensure that all computer
voting machines have a paper record that voters can verify when
they cast their ballots, voters and election officials will have
no way of knowing whether the computers are counting votes properly,"
Holt said in a August 2003 letter to The Washington Post.
The Holt amendment
has yet to gain enough support to be passed, but the congressman
claims the measure has 96 cosponsors in the House and says they
and colleagues in the Senate will address the paper trail issue
in early 2004.
told the Online NewsHour that he would prefer to leave the paper
trail issue up to individual states and give them time to properly
consider the issue.
feasible and helpful it would be something that states may well
want to adopt," Hoyer said, adding that he thinks the Holt
amendment "pre-judges" the paper trail question.
point I'd like to see what works," Hoyer said.
are following Hoyer's recommendation and drafting their own rules.
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has announced that his office
will require all voting machines in California to provide a voter-verified
paper trail by 2006.
that the general controversy over the reliability of DREs is something
that will have to be considered by both the federal and local
He said electronic
machines used in his home state of Maryland have received favorable
reviews from voters.
DREs were used in four of our counties last year, and almost uniformly
the voters found it a very friendly, easy and verifiable way to
vote," Hoyer said. "So I think the voter's experience
is a good one, but obviously the voter is very concerned, properly
so, and we're all very concerned that the votes be accurately
tallied and the person that in fact gets... most of the votes
wins the election. That after all is the final objective and the
The congressman said HAVA instructs the Commerce Department's
National Institute of Standards and Technology, which issues advisory
standards for technology usage, to help states evaluate the machines.
$3.9 billion HAVA allocates for required voting system upgrades
will be sent to the states that have met initial standards, including
setting up state commissions on elections and implementing state-wide
voter registration databases. States that receive funding will
then parcel money out to individual localities.
$1.5 billion of the total $3.9 billion the act allocates was appropriated
in 2002. About $833 million of that was still in the coffers of
the federal government's General Services Administration in early
December 2003 pending the confirmation of the HAVA-established
federal Election Administration Commission.
the commission members have been appointed but Congress has not
confirmed them. In 2003, however, Congress authorized the GSA
to proceed with distribution of that $833 million.
slated to approve another $1.5 billion of HAVA funding in 2004,
and Hoyer said he hopes President Bush will include a final $800
million in his budget.
money has gone out. It has obviously been helpful to the states,"
Hoyer said of the HAVA funding. "A lot more money has been
promised and pledged and it's my expectation that the Congress
and the administration will support the sums we promised."
Points of HAVA
Help Americans Vote Act, sponsored by Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and
Bob Ney, R-Ohio, passed Oct. 16, 2002, in the wake of the 2000
presidential election. President Bush signed the measure into
law on Oct. 29, 2002.
The law encourages
states to replace punch card and lever voting machines and requires: