Who Is Responsible For Voting Systems In The United States?

History of Voting Methods

Mixed race voter voting in polling place
Blend Images - Hill Street Studios/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

An effective voting system allows citizens to express their preference for public policy decisions in a secure and private manner. So who is responsible for voting systems in the United States?

According to the GAO (pdf):

All levels of government share responsibility in the overall U.S. election system. At the federal level, Congress has authority under the Constitution to regulate presidential and congressional elections and to enforce prohibitions against specific discriminatory practices in all federal, state, and local elections. Congress has passed legislation that addresses voter registration, absentee voting, accessibility provisions for the elderly and handicapped, and prohibitions against discriminatory practices. At the state level, individual states are responsible for the administration of both federal elections and their own elections. States regulate the election process, including, for example, the adoption of voluntary voting system guidelines, the state certification and acceptance testing of voting systems, ballot access, registration procedures, absentee voting requirements, the establishment of voting places, the provision of election day workers, and the counting and certification of the vote.



In total, the overall U.S. election system can be seen as an assemblage of 55 distinct election systems—those of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the 4 U.S. territories. Further, although election policy and procedures are legislated primarily at the state level, states typically decentralize election administration, so that it is carried out at the city or county levels, and voting is done at the local level. As we reported in 2001, local election jurisdictions number more than 10,000, and their sizes vary enormously—from a rural county with about 200 voters to a large urban county, such as Los Angeles County, where the total number of registered voters for the 2000 elections exceeded the registered voter totals in 41 states. Further, these thousands of jurisdictions rely on many different types of voting methods that employ a wide range of voting system makes, models, and versions.