Help America Vote Act (HAVA)
The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was signed into law by President Bush on October 29, 2002. To address irregularities in voting systems that came to light in 2000, HAVA provided federal funding to the states to implement a statewide voter registration system, replace punch card voting machines, improve voter education and poll worker training, permit voters to cast provisional ballots, and require at least one voting machine per polling place to allow voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently. To be eligible to receive HAVA funding, each state was required to submit a State Plan to the federal government that would serve as a blueprint to meet the requirements of HAVA. California’s initial State Plan was published in 2003, and the first State Plan Update (PDF) was published on September 30, 2004. The HAVA State Plan 2010 Update (PDF) was published on August 23, 2010. The 2010 update details the progress made by California in meeting the federal requirements, as well as how California will continue to implement HAVA at the state and local levels.
Changes to the election process for voters include:
New Voting Equipment
HAVA required county elections officials to buy and deploy new voting systems designed to improve the voting process and enable voters to vote independently and privately. The voting systems allow voters to more easily review their ballot to verify their choices and to look for “errors” – ballot contests where a person “overvoted” (e.g., accidentally voted both “yes” and “no” on a ballot measure) or ballot races where a person “undervoted” (e.g., accidentally skipped a race where they could vote for a candidate). Voters with disabilities are provided with voting equipment that lets them vote independently and privately in most instances (e.g., having the ballot read to a visually impaired voter).
Provisional Voting Rights
Every person who shows up at a polling place on Election Day is entitled to cast a provisional ballot, even if there is a question about whether they are a registered voter. Every person who votes a provisional ballot can find out if their ballot was counted, and, if it was not, why it was not counted.
New Voter Registration Rules
Every person who registers or re-registers to vote after January 1, 2006, is required to include on their voter registration affidavit their California driver’s license number, if they have a current and valid driver’s license, or their California identification card number, if they have one, or, if they have neither a driver’s license nor a California ID, the last four digits of their social security number, if they have one. If a person does not possess a driver’s license, state-issued identification card or a social security number, he or she is still able to apply to register to vote. But, if they do have this information, they must provide it. Any person voting for the first time who registers by mail who does not provide this information will be asked to show a form of identification when they go to the polls, or to provide a copy of that identification with their vote-by-mail ballot. There are 30 forms of identification that can be used for this purpose under HAVA, including a government issued check or a utility bill that includes the person’s name and address.
Help for Military and Overseas Voters
Overseas voters may obtain instructions and forms for voter registration, the Federal Post Card and Absentee Ballot Request form and the standard oath required for overseas voting through the Secretary of State’s Military and Overseas Voter Information pages. The addresses, website links, and fax numbers for county elections officials are also available at County Elections Offices. California has a user-friendly ballot for use by military and overseas voters. This ballot allows voters to write in the name of the candidate and office for which they are voting, thus reducing the time required for customized mailing of ballots by party and district to overseas voters. Voters receive a list of statewide propositions and local measures, as well as a complete list of candidates in all parties for federal elections. Forms and ballots may be returned to the appropriate county elections officials by mail or by fax.
New Ways to Improve the Process
Finally, among HAVA’s most important contributions to the electoral process is the ability of voters to voice concerns and complaints by using the formal mechanism to let elections officials hear those concerns and endeavor to resolve them.
Statewide Voter Registration
In 2005, California upgraded its existing statewide voter registration system – CalVoter – to comply with HAVA’s requirement for a statewide voter registration system. Since that time, VoteCal was developed and the Secretary of State has successfully deployed VoteCal as the new statewide voter registration database.