Help America Vote Act

Voting Problems

Congress enacted the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (PDF) (HAVA) in response to the numerous voting problems experienced in the 2000 Presidential election. HAVA provisions were put in place to help states improve the administration of elections in the United States. It also set nationwide standards in areas such as voting systems; registration and voter record management; and polling place accessibility and procedures.


The HAVA package of legislative election reforms break down into three major areas. The creation of the federal Election Assistance Commission, empowered with the following duties:

  • The commission shall serve as a national clearinghouse and resource for the compilation of information and review of procedures with respect to the administration of federal elections.
  • Carrying out duties relating to the development and adoption of voluntary voting system guidelines, including the maintenance of information on the experiences of states in implementing the guidelines and in the general operation of voting systems.
  • Carrying out duties related to the testing, certification, decertification, and recertification of voting system hardware and software.
  • Conducting studies and other activities to promote the effective administration of federal elections.
  • Carrying out duties related to election assistance and providing information and training on the management of the grant programs.
  • Developing and carrying out the Help America Vote College Program.
  • Disseminating to the public, on an ongoing basis, (through the Internet, published reports, and other appropriate means) information on the activities carried out under this act. All votes taken by the commission.
  • Such other information and recommendations as the commission considers appropriate.


HAVA provides funds to states to improve election administration and replace outdated voting systems. A number of different payments to states are authorized by HAVA.

  • Section 101 establishes payments to states for election administration improvements eligible activities include educating voters, training election officials and poll workers, improving the accessibility of polling places, and establishing toll-free hotlines to report fraud or voting rights violations.
  • Section 102 provides payments for replacement of punch card and lever voting machines.
  • Section 251 establishes requirements payments which are to be used only to meet the requirements of Title III, with $1.4 billion appropriated for fiscal year 2003, $1 billion for fiscal year 2004, and $600 million for fiscal year 2005. To receive these payments the state must certify that it is in compliance with several requirements including:
    • Filing the state plan developed by the committee.
    • Filing the plan for a statewide complaint procedure.
  • Section 261 authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make payments to improve the accessibility of polling places for individuals with disabilities.
  • Section 271 establishes grants for research on voting technology improvements.
  • Section 281 establishes grants for pilot programs to test new technologies in voting systems and equipment.
  • Under section 291, the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall pay the protection and advocacy system of each state to ensure full participation in the electoral process for individuals with disabilities.
  • Section 503 authorizes funds for the Help America Vote College Program.


Creating minimum standards for states to follow in several key areas of election administration.

HAVA sets voting system standards regarding:

  • Voter verification and correction of a ballot.
  • A manual audit capacity.
  • Accessibility by persons with disabilities.
  • It sets standards for provisional voting and requires a method for voters to discover whether their provisional vote was counted.
  • It lists information which must be posted at polling places.
  • It requires a computerized statewide voter registration list, which is to be the official list for federal elections; the list must coordinate with other agency databases and be accessible by local election officials.
  • The types of acceptable identification which can be presented by a first time voter who registered by mail are listed and the option is provided for identification to be sent with the mail-in registration.
  • It requires states receiving HAVA funds to establish a statewide administrative complaint procedure. States must have provisional voting, voting information for the polls, computerized statewide voter registration list, administrative complaint procedure and first-time voters who register by mail requirements in place by January 1, 2004.
  • States must comply with the voting systems standards by January 1, 2006, and all systems purchased with title II payments must meet disability access standards by January 1, 2007.