Elections 2020: Policy, Funding and the Future
NCSL’s project, Elections 2020: Policy, Funding and the Future, began in the fall of 2015. The goal is to explore the legislative role in selecting elections technology appropriate to each state's needs, potential state and local funding options, and the web of responsibilities relating to elections technology. Supported with a generous grant from the Democracy Fund, this two-year project will engage legislators and legislative staff across state lines who face similar challenges. The project is based on communication among states and within selected states, as well as research, analysis and the dissemination of findings.
The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) named “the impending crisis in voting technology” as a key recommendation in its final 2014 report. The recommendation is based on the fact that existing voting equipment, much of it deployed in the years immediately following the 2000 election, is reaching the end of its useful life in most states and jurisdictions. In most parts of the nation, new elections equipment is needed.
Besides asking, what will the next generation of elections technology look like, policymakers are asking: Where will the funding come from? The federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 injected $3.28 billion into election reform, or about $25 per voter. The days of federal money—and federal mandates—for what is essentially a state or local function are over.
Legislators and elections officials are thinking about 2020 and beyond. They know the stakes are high: If election equipment fails, voters are turned away, or results aren’t clear, the nation’s trust in elections is damaged, and the nation’s trust in democracy is damaged as well.
Most states, with some exceptions, traditionally have played a minor role in paying for elections technology or elections operating expenses. It is never easy to add something new to a state budget that is already stressed by demands to adequately pay for education, health care, roads and numerous other public demands. For local governments, which traditionally have funded elections, elections purchases must compete with other budgetary priorities.
The best policy choices come when those who have a 30,000-foot view (legislators), a 10,000-foot view (state election officials) and a ground-level view (local election officials) collaborate. That is the approach behind this project.
What: The first phase of the project consists of daylong meetings in select states. These meetings bring together legislators, legislative staff and state and local election administrators to learn how elections are currently run in their state, and then to discuss a course for future decision-making. The day includes a field trip to a local election official’s office and a collaborative conversation about election technologies, policy and funding.
Why: Legislators play a critical role in crafting policies that address the complexities of election administration. Yet in most states, it is local election administrators who purchase new technology and equipment, understand the flow of elections work and respond to the needs of voters. NCSL will assist states in strengthening the key policy link between legislators and election officials to more effectively integrate technology policy development and implementation.
This program is provided at no cost to participating states, with support from the Democracy Fund.
- North Dakota, Dec. 3, 2015
- Rhode Island, Jan. 14, 2016
- Nebraska, Apr. 11, 2016
- Texas, May 19, 2016
- Hawaii, June 2, 2016
- Louisiana, December 15, 2016
National Meeting: In 2017 NCSL will host a national meeting for legislators, key state legislative staff and others in the election community. The meeting will sum up the project’s work by presenting funding options and decision points for the future.
Additional Project Components: Throughout the project, NCSL is developing and distributing research on all topics that touch on elections and technology. Some of these are listed below. Others are under development.
Technical Assistance: Throughout the project, NCSL can provide testimony, technical assistance, state-specific research or otherwise respond to the needs of legislatures as they begin to discuss state policy on funding and future election technology options.
State Legislatures Magazine