Help America Vote Act
On October 29, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, into law. Conceived in the wake of the controversial 2000 presidential election in Florida, HAVA represents the most significant reform of federal election law since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
With the passage of HAVA, Congress has required states to improve their elections and has provided money with which to do so. Montana received $16 million in grant money, plus is entitled to receive additional requirements payments if appropriated by Congress. The federal money is being used, among other things, to:
- Purchase voting equipment that will allow voters with disabilities, especially vision impairments, to vote independently and privately. Every polling place in Montana is now equipped with accessible voting equipment.
- Improve accessibility of county polling places.
- Replace punch-card voting systems (whose hanging and dimpled chads were the center of controversy in Florida in 2000) in six Montana counties (Broadwater, Fallon, Fergus, Flathead, Glacier, and Mineral).
- Create and maintain a computerized, statewide database of all registered voters that can be updated by local election officials on an ongoing basis. By cross-checking the database, election officials are able to ensure that Montanans are not registered to vote in more than one place.
- Educate voters, poll workers, and election officials about the requirements of HAVA.
- Requires first-time voters and those who have recently moved to new precincts to show identification at the polls. The 2003 Montana Legislature, with the cooperation of the Secretary of State’s Office, expanded that requirement to all Montana voters as a means of ensuring the integrity of the elections process. Beginning with the primary election in 2004, every Montana voter was required at the polls to show a drivers’ license, tribal ID, student ID, or other photo ID with the person’s name, or a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check, or other government document that includes the voter’s name and address.
- Allows individuals to vote using provisional ballots if they forget ID or are not listed in precinct registers. If election officials successfully verify an individual’s identity and/or voter registration, his or her ballot is counted. Provisional voting helps to ensure that no voter is turned away at the polls.
- Makes voting easier for Absent Military and Overseas Voters by allowing them to request absentee ballots throughout the year.