Elections: The Scope of Congressional Authority in Election Administration

GAO-01-470: Mar 13, 2001

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Events surrounding the 2000 presidential election led to intense national interest in voting processes and the administration of elections. This report reviews the current federal role, and limitations thereof, in the administration of elections. GAO examines (1) the constitutional framework for the administration of elections, focusing on Congress' authority to regulate congressional, presidential, and state and local elections, as well as its authority to provide grants to support election processes and (2) major federal statutes enacted in the area of election administration. GAO found that the constitutional framework for elections contemplates both state and federal roles. States are responsible for the administration of both their own elections and federal elections. States regulate various phases of the election process and, in turn, incur the costs associated with these activities. Notwithstanding the state role in elections, Congress has the authority to affect the administration of elections in certain ways. Congressional authority to legislate in this area derives from various constitutional sources, depending on the type of election. Pursuant to its constitutional powers, Congress enacted laws in several major areas of the voting process. These areas include the timing of federal elections, voter registration, and absentee voting requirements.