Voting in America: The role of states & the federal government
How do you feel about the integrity of the 2020 election?
By Eric Revell, Lorelei Yang, and Josh Herman, Countable News
Voting in America: The Role of the States & Fed
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In the U.S., the federal government and state government share the responsibility for protecting voting rights and managing elections. This has led to the enactment of a wide variety of election systems across the states, and controversy over legal challenges and proposed legislation.
The Constitution sets the criteria for congressional elections to the House and Senate in Article I. Article II covers presidential elections.
Several of the subsequent amendments to the Constitution also deal with elections and voting rights:
- The 12th Amendment modified the Electoral College process that selects the president and vice president.
- The 14th Amendment specified how seats are apportioned in the federal House of Representatives, and it contains the Equal Protection Clause―which is the basis for many voting rights claims.
- The 15th Amendment prohibited race-based voter disenfranchisement.
- The 19th Amendment prohibited sex-based voter disenfranchisement.
- The 23rd Amendment provided the District of Columbia with votes in the Electoral College.
- The 24th Amendment prohibited poll taxes in federal elections.
- The 26th Amendment granted 18-year olds voting rights.
The role of the Fed
The federal government is responsible for enforcing campaign finance laws through the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Dept. of Justice (DOJ). Voting rights are handled by the DOJ. The House and Senate are tasked with addressing qualifications and contested elections.
The role of states
State governments have broad responsibility for administering elections, including:
- Managing voting
- Determining voting methods
- Acquiring equipment
- Determining eligibility and identification requirements for voters (in compliance with federal law)
- Securing election systems
State governments receive assistance in carrying out the above responsibilities from certain federal agencies:
- State governments are responsible for election administration. They receive assistance from the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and the DOJ for things such as facilitating ballot access for Americans overseas or receiving grants to upgrade voting equipment.
- State governments are responsible for election security. They receive assistance from the DOJ and the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) in responding to threats to elections that are beyond their capability to protect against.
- State legislatures are responsible for redistricting. They receive assistance from the Dept. of Commerce, which provides Census data used in the redistricting process; and the DOJ, which enforces protections against voter discrimination.
How states protect election integrity
- Cybersecurity: States are eligible to receive federal grants to augment their own election security spending that are intended to prevent attempts to hack into voting machines at polling places and tabulation machines that count votes.
- Paper ballots: While many states already provide voters with paper, hand-marked ballots to use, those that rely on paperless, electronic voting machines are moving to integrate paper ballots as backups before eventually replacing the paperless machines altogether.
- Voter ID: A more controversial proposal to protect the integrity of elections are voter identification (ID) laws that have been adopted by many states. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 35 states have voter ID laws in effect as of August 2020. (North Carolina has enacted a voter ID, but it is currently blocked by a temporary injunction from a federal judge.)
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