Volume 110

What Happened to HAVA? The Help America Vote Act Twenty Years On and Lessons for the Future

by Orion de Nevers

Election administration is back. The field—which lay dormant until the meltdown of the 2000 election produced Bush v. Gore—has drawn steadily more interest over the past two decades. And in 2020, it took center stage, returning to the forefront of the public conscience in dramatic fashion. Now, with states around the country introducing new rules governing election administration in the wake of the 2020 election, it is a particularly important time to take stock of what we know and what we don’t about how election administration measures function in practice. Yet the political conversation, so far, has proceeded in a manner divorced from the social science that is the hallmark of election administration scholarship. This Article addresses that gap. 

Though it is in many ways forgotten today, twenty years ago, Congress passed a comprehensive election administration reform bill, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), to make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat” in U.S. elections. The law, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, provided technical upgrades to election machinery, improvements to voter registration, and new voter identification requirements—three reforms that remain flashpoints in the election law debate. Nevertheless, HAVA has been conspicuously absent from recent election law discourse. This Article resurrects HAVA’s story, explaining how the law failed and extracting five lessons from its shortcomings. It then applies those lessons to recent election administration reform efforts to see if Congress has learned from HAVA’s lessons. As we will see, HAVA still has much to teach. 

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