The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed by Congress to help solve these
problems. It helps states replace their unreliable voting machines, and it
requires uniform election procedures and standards so that voters have the same
rights no matter where they live.
For the nation, HAVA is a great law. It will help restore faith in our
For Vermont, HAVA presents opportunities and poses challenges.
The changes required by HAVA will not be noticeable to most Vermonters.
People who vote in towns that use paper ballots and hand-count results will
continue to do so. Communities that use optical scan machines to count their
votes will continue to do so.
But behind the scenes HAVA will make a positive difference. Vermont is
eligible to receive over 9 million dollars. This money will help us build a
statewide voter checklist. Our visually impaired voters will be given an
opportunity to vote privately and independently using up to date technology. We
will have resources to conduct voter outreach programs to increase voter
turnout, and we will be able to better educate our election workers.
On the other hand, HAVA mandates changes that reflect unnecessary solutions
to problems we do not have. Some of these changes raise concerns about
individual rights to privacy and the role of the Federal government in telling
the states how to register voters and run our elections.
The most controversial provision of HAVA is the requirement that people who
register to vote must provide their driver’s license number, or if they have
none, the last four digits of their social security number. The law contemplates
that these numbers will help prevent voter fraud by permitting election
administrators to determine whether a voter is registered and voting in more
than one place. The inflexibility of the law means we cannot use less intrusive
means to provide the same results
When these provisions go into effect a person who registers to vote but fails
to provide these numbers will not be added to the voter checklist. This is
troublesome because the Federal requirements may be too restrictive under
Vermont Constitutional law.
Many legislators also expressed a deep concern that the collection of drivers
license numbers as a prerequisite for registration and voting brings us one step
closer to a national identification system that would permit the government to
track us in our daily lives.
Despite these concerns, and to avoid jeopardizing federal funding, the
legislature passed HAVA. We will be requesting a waiver until 2006 for the
provisions of law related to the collection of personal identification numbers.
This waiver, if granted, would permit us to begin a conversation in Vermont
about individual privacy and the right to vote.
As part of this conversation the legislature will take up the issue of
whether we should split our voter checklist so that the federal mandates would
apply only to voting in federal races, preserving our right to run our state and
local elections according to our own beliefs about what makes sense for Vermont.
The issues the legislature grappled with under HAVA are difficult, and many
Vermonters share their strong feelings. It was a good decision to pass the bill
and preserve the federal funding; and it is good that many of these issues will
be revisited in the legislature next year.
HAVA is not perfect; no bill is. However, despite the controversy, it
presents us with a terrific opportunity to shore up the integrity of our
electoral process, improve voter participation, and renew public confidence in
this most cherished democratic right.
The new legislation and proposed Vermont’s State Implementation Plan can be
found at www.sec.state.vt.us, or by calling the Secretary of
State office at 1-800-439-8683.