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Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) was a major bipartisan piece of legislation that attempted to resolve many of the issues across the country in running elections highlighted by the 2000 presidential election. Some of the more important changes made by HAVA include mandating voting technology requirements, requiring state-wide voter registration databases, and increasing registration requirements. HAVA has been a foundational piece of legislation with many pieces of federal election legislation to this day being additions to or modifications of HAVA.

Major election issues and controversies reached a peak in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, setting the stage for HAVA. The winner of the presidential election turned on a few hundred votes in Florida, a state full of election day problems, that ended in the famous Supreme Court Case Bush v. Gore. Some of the issues included confusing ballots, faulty voter machines, registered individuals not showing up in databases, voter fraud, and under access to voting by certain populations like military personnel. These issues existed across the country, leading policy makers, citizens, and academics alike to call for major upgrades to the equipment and management of elections.

HAVA most famously set new requirements and non-binding recommendations for states in running their elections. First, states must establish state-wide registration databases which previously often remained only on a county level. The county level databases led to confusion on election day when voters did not appear as registered in the county to which they moved, and this also potentially allowed for individuals to successfully vote in more than one county. Second, states must meet new technology requirements that included testing and certification of voter registration machines that faced many failures in the 2000 elections. Thirdly, new voters became required to show a driver’s license or last four digits of their Social Security number either when registering or when voting. Fourthly, states were encouraged to use and abide by standard guidelines for provisional ballots so that individuals claiming to be registered may not simply be turned away at the ballot box. Fifthly, absentee ballots and other voting initiatives were established to increase accessibility for military members and those with disabilities. There are many other requirements which can be accessed in the text of the HAVA here

To handle the sweeping changes made in HAVA, the bill established the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and provided funds to states and localities to update election equipment. The EAC was responsible for overseeing the state implementation of the requirements in EAC, distributing HAVA funds, certifying voting equipment, and providing guidelines and election auditing information for both states and the public. 

[Last updated in February of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]