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National Issues

State Use of Remaining HAVA Funds For New Voting Systems: A Reasonable Option PDF  | Print |  Email
By Verified Voting Foundation and VoteTrustUSA   
March 04, 2008
The Election Assistance Commission is considering a Policy Clarification issued last month by Commission Chair Rosemary Rodriguez (pictured at right) that would reverse an earlier staff recommendation regarding the use of remaining Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds by states to replace voting systems purchased with previous HAVA funds. Verified Voting and VoteTrustUSA strongly supports this Policy Clarification: such expenditures are a reasonable use of HAVA funds to improve the administration of Federal elections.

Background

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) required States to employ voting systems that would meet new requirements. The new requirements were specified in Title III of the bill, which required, among other provisions, that each and every polling place used in federal elections provide at least one voting system allowing voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently.

HAVA established the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and directed the Commission to disburse appropriated funds in the form of payments to States to assist them in meeting  the requirements of Title III. HAVA granted broad discretion to the States regarding the use of such that remained after the State had met the requirements of Title III. Such funds were to be used by States as they found necessary to "improve the administration of Federal elections". 

From Section 251(b) (2) of Public Law 107-252 (HAVA):
 “(2) Other activities.--A State may use a requirements payment to carry out other activities to improve the administration of elections for Federal office if the State certifies to the Commission that-
(A) the State has implemented the requirements of title III; or
(B) the amount expended with respect to such other activities does not exceed an amount equal to the minimum payment amount applicable to the State under section 252(c).”
Most states have purchased new equipment to comply with the requirements of Title III. But a number of states are taking a  close look at the equipment they initially purchased to comply with Title III, and have determined that improvement to, or even replacement of, this relatively new equipment is necessary.  Recent governmental and nongovernmental studies have called into question the reliability and security of much of the voting technology now in use. In response, states from Florida to Tennessee to California are in various stages of moving to replace equipment previously purchased to comply with HAVA, and they wish to use some of their remaining requirements payments to for this purpose.

This Policy Clarification benefits states such as Colorado, where Secretary of State Mike Coffman's review of existing voting systems found deficiencies in reliability and security. This review has  prompted Secretary Coffman, a bipartisan coalition of Colorado legislators, and the Governor to seek a new voting system for the state. While there is debate about the particulars of the new system, there is widespread agreement on the need  to replace at least some equipment purchased previously with HAVA funds.   

The Clarification also benefits Kentucky, where the Attorney General has conducted a review of voting systems now in use, and found significant security concerns. In response to the report, Secretary of State Grayson has expressed interest in new equipment to replace systems previously purchased with Title III requirements payments.

In Tennessee, the bipartisan Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations has recommended replacement of voting systems purchased with HAVA requirements payments. Tennessee's Legislature faces budgetary constraints and may not be able to act on the panel's recommendation. However, Tennessee has a substantial balance of requirements payments remaining, and the Clarification enables Tennessee to move toward more reliable voting technology.

The Secretary of State of California has conducted the most comprehensive review of voting technology to date, employing computer scientists and accessibility experts from the private sector, governmental laboratories, and academic institutions. The Secretary has determined a need to replace equipment previously purchased with requirements payments.

Remaining requirements payments possessed by states can be used to “improve the administration of federal elections.” Several States have decided that existing equipment is not fit for use,  and that improving the administration of federal elections depends upon purchasing new, reliable equipment. HAVA grants states the discretion to determine the manner in which they improve federal elections in Section 253 (c ) :

“Methods of Compliance Left to Discretion of State.--The specific choices on the methods of complying with the elements of a State plan shall be left to the discretion of the State.”                       

The Commission should be praised for recognizing the discretion HAVA grants to states to make use of requirements payments after they achieve compliance with Title III.
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