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Options for U.S. Federal Involvement in Elections


Amid growing threats to election infrastructure and the increased complexity of administering elections, legislators have an opportunity to reassess how the federal government helps state and local officials ensure secure, accessible, and trusted elections. Over the past few decades, the federal government has acted to protect elections from malign foreign actors, passed legislation to change state voter registration processes, and established the first federal agency solely devoted to election administration. The federal government’s role in election infrastructure is at an inflection point that warrants reevaluation to better prepare for the challenges to come.

There is no framework for the federal government’s current or future role in U.S. elections—nor any assessment of needs and opportunities as a basis for making strategic choices and securing optimal impact. The scope and mission of each agency, commission, committee, and department are highly fragmented among entities and from federal to state levels. The result is that the sum of all the independent and often isolated parts fails to function as a cohesive whole.

Forward-thinking policy and structural reform in elections could mitigate partisan-motivated decision-making and eliminate the stopgap mentality common in election legislation. At the same time, the role of the federal government in elections is contentious. Legislators and other federal policymakers face an opportunity to affirm the resilience of U.S. election infrastructure for future generations by determining whether to continue the trend of increased federal involvement, break the trend and decrease federal involvement, or strive to maintain the current level of federal involvement.

This report lays out several options for federal involvement in elections and describes the security, accessibility, and trust trade-offs of each option. The Bipartisan Policy Center consulted with more than 40 election stakeholders in the creation of this report, including representatives from federal agencies, state and local election offices, nonprofit election groups, academic researchers, and philanthropic organizations.

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