Did you know that the way you vote today is directly related to the controversial 2000 presidential election, the one that gave us the phrase “hanging chad” and saw George Bush elected president?
Accusations of potential voter fraud in Florida in that election gave rise to the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA as it is more commonly known, which was proposed by then-U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat.
The law brought sweeping changes in how Americans cast ballots in all elections and the most significant change, at least in Connecticut, was the plan to eliminate all lever-style voting machines. Those old-fashioned machines – where voters stepped into a booth and then closed a curtain for privacy, were replaced by optical scan machines, which use paper ballots that voters fill out and then feed into a scanner.
While the change caused a furor among some voting experts who said it could give rise to more instances of voter fraud, others said the new system offers superior accountability and fewer opportunities for fraud over an even more controversial touch-screen machine that was tested and then rejected by Connecticut voting officials.
The federal legislation created many other new voting mandates for state and local governments and provided $3.9 billion in federal funding to carry them out. Connecticut got $32.7 million in federal funding that was used to create a new electronic voting system. Other critical aspects of the law, according to the Secretary of the State’s website include:
- New voting system standards that went into effect Jan. 1 2006, including providing greater voting access to people with disabilities, allowing voters to verify their votes before casting a ballot and creating a permanent paper record of votes cast, which means election officials can undertake manual audits of contested elections.
- A requirement that states establish a centralized voter registration system as of Jan. 1, 2004.
- A requirement that first-time voters present identification either when registering or when voting in person or by absentee ballot.
- A requirement that states adopt an election complaint process.
- The establishment of provisional voting as of Jan.1, 2004. This allows those who claim to be registered but who aren’t on the official list when they show up to vote to cast a provisional ballot, which can be counted once the voter has established they are registered.
The law also required that the following be posted at the polls on Election Day:
- Sample ballot
- Date of election and hours of polling
- Instructions on how to vote
- Instructions for mail-in voters and first-time voters with new identification requirements
- Voter’s bill of rights
- Voter rights regarding provisional ballots
- Information on state laws regarding voting fraud
You can find more information about HAVA on this website maintained by the federal Election Assistance Commission.