In the United States, states and local election jurisdictions are largely responsible for administering federal elections. States regulate activities like voting methods and setting time periods for voting on or before Election Day. Among other things, local jurisdictions register eligible voters, design ballots, arrange for polling places, and count ballots. Both states and local jurisdictions work to maintain accurate voter registration lists and have struggled to ensure that these lists capture all changes in registrants’ information (such as when people do not notify the U.S. Postal Service when they move). Additionally, much of the voting equipment acquired with federal funds through the Help America Vote Act in 2002 may be reaching the end of its life span and will need to be replaced.
Federal laws regulate various aspects of election administration, including voter registration and protecting the voting rights of individuals with disabilities and certain minority groups. And there are a number of opportunities to strengthen federal efforts to assist states and localities in managing election administration, and to better coordinate in enforcing federal campaign finance laws.
- Federal law generally requires all polling places for federal elections to be accessible to all voters, and have a system for casting ballots that is accessible for people with disabilities. However, election officials and advocates have reported challenges like physical obstacles to entry, voting equipment not being set up properly, and some voters facing difficulties marking paper mail ballots. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) serves as an information clearinghouse on elections issues and provides resources to help election officials administer federal elections, including information on accessibility. But it doesn’t regularly collect feedback about those resources or officials’ needs.
Polling Place with a Make-shift Ramp That Could Impede Voters with Disabilities
- The EAC also administers elections-related grants. Most recently, it administered $400 million in CARES Act grants to help states conduct elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there were issues with how states and the EAC categorized about 20% of the grant spending, making it hard to consistently determine how states spent these funds. The EAC also hasn’t assessed its administration of these grants or documented lessons learned.
- The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has helped state and local elections officials secure online voter registration systems, voting machines, and other election infrastructure since 2017. However, CISA’s plans may not fully address known issues from previous election assistance efforts.
- The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) is responsible for civil enforcement of campaign finance law. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for investigating and prosecuting criminal violations of campaign finance law. Various types of campaign finance-related activities are subject to federal law and enforcement by both the FEC and DOJ. While the FEC and DOJ coordinate on campaign finance, some of their coordination activities are not reflected in their Memorandum of Understanding—which has not been updated since it was signed in 1977. Reviewing and updating coordination practices between the agencies could help them ensure consistent and effective coordination when enforcing campaign finance law.
Types of campaign finance-related activities subject to federal campaign finance law