Hoyer: The Survival of Our Democracy Depends on Our Ability to Conduct Safe and Secure Elections
The survival of American democracy depends not only on the outcome of our elections but also on how they are conducted. I have seen disruptions in our elections threaten to derail our democratic system, and that’s why twenty years ago today, I led the effort to enact the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). This milestone anniversary ought to remind us that we can take proactive steps to improve the accuracy and accessibility of our elections. In fact, we must if our bold democratic experiment is to continue.
HAVA was born of bipartisan cooperation following a period of great stress on our election systems. From faulty voting machines to “hanging chads,” the 2000 presidential election revealed weaknesses in our electoral system. Worse, it demonstrated how these defects could put our democratic process in jeopardy. The inconclusive election results in 2000 left our government institutions racked with uncertainty for weeks and damaged Americans’ confidence in their democracy for far longer.
From its inception, HAVA’s success relied on bipartisanship. In the wake of the 2000 election, former Republican President Gerald Ford and former Democratic President Jimmy Carter co-chaired the National Commission on Federal Election Reform (NCFER) to come up with potential solutions to restore the public’s faith in our elections. I worked with them to formulate these recommendations and incorporate them into HAVA, and I was proud to help bring together a bipartisan group of lawmakers to pass that legislation through both the House and Senate with overwhelming majorities. Ultimately, President George W. Bush signed HAVA into law twenty years ago.
Two decades later, we still benefit from HAVA, a law that Washington Post journalist David Broder heralded at the time as, “the most significant piece of federal election law since the Voting Rights Act.” The law has provided billions of dollars to states over the years to modernize their voting equipment and replace the unreliable machines that compromised ballots in 2000.
From creating centralized voting databases to expanding provisional ballot access, HAVA established requirements that make elections more accessible and more transparent. The law also created the independent, bipartisan Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which has worked with states to develop standards and best practices that improve our elections. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, the EAC worked closely with the U.S. Postal Service to ensure that more Americans than ever before had access to secure mail-in and absentee voting. Indeed, HAVA stands among the most important pieces of voting rights legislation in a generation. Voting rights can’t stop at the ballot box; they must ensure that once cast, those ballots are counted fairly and accurately.
The act of voting helps ensure that our government remains accountable to those it serves. If our candidate or party wins a race, we cherish the victory. If they lose, we accept the results because we know we’ll have another chance to make our voices heard in the next election. When Americans lose faith that their vote will count, however, they begin to doubt that our political system is, as President Lincoln once said, “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Consequently, HAVA must be able to adapt to new challenges. Over the last decade, however, unreliable and inadequate funding has restricted the EAC’s ability to test modern voting technologies and develop new standards that address concerns that simply didn’t exist twenty years ago, such as cybersecurity. House Democrats and I fought hard to include more than $400 million in this year’s Financial Services appropriations bill to strengthen our elections and ensure that the EAC and other HAVA initiatives like the College Poll Worker Program receive the resources they need to function effectively. I urge my Republican colleagues in the Senate to prioritize securing this funding as they work on their appropriations in the coming months.
We must also go beyond HAVA’s original scope when necessary. I have been proud to support legislation — such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act — that includes commonsense proposals to help ensure the vitality and continuity of our democracy.
Most importantly, we must rekindle that same bipartisan commitment to election integrity that allowed us to enact HAVA. We cannot afford to trivialize real threats to our elections — such as voter suppression, foreign interference, and partisan gerrymandering — by indulging baseless voter fraud claims and by politicizing election certification.
Elections are meant to build up the American people’s trust in their government. If we fail to take action like we did with HAVA, however, they will do the opposite. As the 2024 election approaches, we must pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Freedom to Vote Act, and other legislation that will help us take the next step toward securing our electoral systems and our democracy For The People.