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On October 29, 2002, President George W. Bush signed Public Law 107-252, the “Help America Vote Act”, which represented the federal government’s response to the controversial (and close) 2000 presidential election. Now, fifteen years later, it’s appropriate to look back and marvel at how much has changed in elections since then.

For all of the criticism that HAVA has received over the years – and it’s been a LOT – it’s important to remember that until the law was enacted, the United States government had gone 226 years without spending one dollar in direct support (as opposed to oversight) of state and local election administration. HAVA’s significant, if limited, infusion of cash simply changed the game. Indeed, you can argue that the availability of federal funds alerted state and local election officials to the need for investment in election administration – a need they’re struggling to maintain today.

Other basic components of HAVA like provisional ballots, greater accessibility for voters with disabilities and voting equipment standards are now familiar to the entire election community – and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a new federal agency created by the Act which suffered some trying early years and a deathly quiet “ghost ship” period, is now thriving and providing both data and assistance to election officials across the nation. Here’s what EAC Chair Matt Masterson had to say about HAVA’s 15th:

“HAVA was a watershed piece of legislation that improved the accessibility and administration of elections and created the Election Assistance Commission to provide guidance and resources to election officials around the country. 

“Given the challenges election administrators face, the work of the Election Assistance Commission remains as important today as any time since HAVA was enacted. Our research allows election administrators to see the impact of election policies over time and use that data to improve the way America votes. The commission’s guidance and leadership on establishing voluntary voting system guidelines, testing and certifying voting systems, and making systems and materials accessible for all people, ensures the process works for all voters. 

“On the fifteenth anniversary of HAVA, the EAC celebrates the impact of HAVA and reaffirms its commitment to helping election officials around the country administer accessible, accurate and secure elections.”  

HAVA may not have been the perfect response to the challenges facing the American election system, but it’s been significant nonetheless. Kudos to everyone who made the law happen 15 years ago, and thanks to everyone in the election community across the nation who still makes it work every day. Stay tuned for what happens in HAVA’s next five years!