In the wake of the disconcerting 2000 presidential contest in Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002.
HAVA is intended “to provide funds to States to replace punch card voting systems, to establish the Election Assistance Commission to assist in the administration of Federal elections and to otherwise provide assistance with the administration of certain Federal election laws.” But at this writing, the new Election Assistance Commission Standards Board, which is charged with producing new guidelines, has held only one hearing.
The law requires that most punch-card and lever-type machines be replaced in time for the 2004 general election and that all punch-card and lever-type machines be replaced by the time the first elections are held after Jan. 1, 2006. Federal funding will cover a substantial portion of the cost.
The law’s most controversial element is that it encourages states to screen voter-registration lists without imposing controls on how this is done.
In 2000, Florida Secretary of State Kathryn Harris — who was also George Bush’s Florida campaign manager and is now a congressional representative — contracted with a private company to purge registration lists of convicted felons (who are ineligible to vote in that state). The method used was extremely inaccurate, yet neither the state nor the company tried to verify the accuracy of the resulting list. A post-election study by Harvard University established that 90-95 percent of those denied their right to vote under this system — as many as 55,000 people — were not felons. The majority of those excluded were black voters. Ninety percent of black voters pulled the lever for Gore in the Florida race, and Harvard estimated that the purge cost Al Gore 22,000 votes — in an election that was decided by less than 550.
HAVA actually requires states to create the electronic databases that make such screening possible and empowers the states to screen their lists.
Johnnie McLean, deputy director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, told Xpress that North Carolina won’t undertake such screening because state law already stipulates how felons’ voting rights are to be revoked and verified on a case-by-case basis.
— Cecil Bothwell