2006: Election Nirvana or Election Chaos?

2006 is about to arrive, and with it will come the deadlines under HAVA for voter registration and voting technologies. Two deadlines exist in HAVA related to voting machines.

  • Under Section 102, the punch card and lever machine replacement provision,

If a State certifies to the Administrator not later than January 1, 2004, that the State will not meet the deadline described in subparagraph (A) for good cause and includes in the certification the reasons for the failure to meet such deadline, the State shall ensure that all of the punch card voting systems or lever voting systems in the qualifying precincts within that State will be replaced in time for the first election for Federal office held after January 1, 2006.

  • In addition, 301(d) of HAVA, “Each State and jurisdiction shall be required to comply with the requirements of this section on and after January 1, 2006.” Section 301 requirements state that each voting system used in an election for Federal office shall meet specified requirements, including those for voter review of their selections before the ballot is cast (including over vote notification) and/or explicit voter education programs for voters using punch card, paper ballot, or central count optical scan, auditability, and accessibility for individuals with disabilities.
  • On the voter registration side, the computerized statewide voter registration system requirement, Section 303(d), also go into effect on January 1, 2006.

In addition to the obvious question–which states will make the deadlines and which will not–several larger questions loom:

  • What will the EAC and the Department of Justice do to the states that miss the deadline?
  • Will they force those states to return any funding they have received from the EAC?
  • Will the Justice Department take more punitive actions, forcing the states who fail to meet the HAVA requirements to enter into extensive consent decrees regarding the running of elections?

The other aspect of the HAVA deadlines is the question of whether the voting and voter registration systems that are being put into place work effectively. Several of the early adopters of new voting systems, like Georgia, carefully thought through the implementation process and had very successful system deployments. However, other localities, like Miami-Dade County, had disastrous startups. With almost all of the states deploying either new voter registration systems or substantially modified systems, it will be interesting to see if these systems have the same record of hit and miss that voting system deployments have had. If they do, we can expect some level of electoral chaos in the coming year.