This report is intended to serve as a starting point for congressional staff covering voting and elections. It focuses on resources related to laws governing federal elections and voting. It outlines and describes some of the key sources of laws, pending legislation, regulations, cases, CRS Products, and federal agencies working in this subject area. It also contains sections dedicated to the voting process, voting rights, campaign finance, and presidential elections.
This report is intended to serve as a starting point for congressional staff covering voting and elections. It focuses on resources related to laws governing federal elections and voting. It outlines and describes some of the key sources of laws, pending legislation, regulations, cases, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) products, and federal agencies working in this subject area. This report also contains sections dedicated to the voting process, voting rights, campaign finance, and presidential elections.
Election law in the United States is composed of limits and powers defined in the U.S. Constitution, federal laws, regulations, and state processes. This section identifies some of the major resources in each category.
The U.S. Constitution serves as the framework under which other election and voting laws operate.
CRS provides information about the Constitution in The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (CONAN).1 The CONAN website presents the text of the Constitution along with analysis by CRS attorneys, including commentary on Supreme Court decisions that have interpreted the text.
The United States Code is a consolidation and codification of the general and permanent laws of the United States, organized by subject matter. The Code is prepared by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the United States House of Representatives (OLRC).
In September of 2014, OLRC reorganized the provisions related to voting and elections, creating the new Title 52, Voting and Elections. For more information about this change, see the OLRC website, "Editorial Reclassification: Title 52, United States Code."
Please note that because of this reclassification, researchers may encounter references to outdated citations. OLRC provides a table with former and current classifications side-by-side.
Congress.gov is the official website for U.S. federal legislative information. Congress.gov coverage of bills begins in 1973, with full bill text beginning in 1993. Congress.gov categorizes legislation into policy areas and legislative subjects. For example, a search of the legislative subject "Elections, voting, political campaign regulation" will return a list of bills that can then be filtered by additional criteria. To filter by facets, such as Congress and Status of Legislation, use the tool along the left-hand side of the results' list.
Regulations, along with notices, proposed rules, and presidential documents, are published daily in the Federal Register. General and permanent rules are published annually in the Code of Federal Regulations, which is organized into titles according to subject area. The Government Publishing Office maintains the "Electronic Code of Federal Regulations," or e-CFR, an electronic version of the Code of Federal Regulations. The e-CFR is updated frequently; the currency of the information is stated clearly on the homepage. Title 11 contains regulations about federal elections.
This CRS report does not provide resources on voting laws for each individual state. Instead, it directs users to resources for compilations of state laws. For an overview of issues related to elections and voting in the states, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) maintains an "Elections and Campaigns" website.
HeinOnline, a subscription resource available to congressional staff through the CRS La Follette Congressional Reading Room, provides numerous Subject Compilations of State Laws categorized with the subject heading "Voters and Voting."
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is an independent regulatory agency created by Congress in 1975 to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). The FEC's duties include disclosing public finance information, enforcing provisions of the FECA, and overseeing public funding of presidential elections.2
The Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces the civil provisions of federal laws that protect the right to vote, including the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and the Civil Rights Act (CRA). The DOJ website provides a list and summary of "Statutes Enforced by the Voting Section."
The United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is an independent, bipartisan commission established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002.3 The EAC administers grant programs, provides for testing and certification of voting systems, and studies election issues. The EAC also assists election officials by issuing guidelines for voting systems and advice on implementing the act's requirements.4
Law Library of Congress, "Election Law"
Library of Congress, "U.S. Election Statistics: A Resource Guide"
National Archives and Records Administration, "U.S. Voting & Election Resources"
Cornell University Legal Information Institute, "Election Law: An Overview"
Georgetown Law Library, "Election Law Research Guide"
Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, "Election Law at Moritz"
University of California at Irvine, "Starting Points—Election Law"
This section includes resources related to laws governing voter registration, ID requirements, and other logistics of election administration.
Constitutional provisions providing federal authority to regulate federal elections:
Regulations promulgated by the EAC are published throughout the year in the Federal Register and once a year in the annual update of the Code of Federal Regulations. Regulations promulgated by the EAC are located in Title 11, Chapter 2.
CRS Report RL30747, Congressional Authority to Direct How States Administer Elections, by [author name scrubbed]
CRS Report R44675, Recent State Election Law Challenges: In Brief, by [author name scrubbed]
CRS Report R42806, State Voter Identification Requirements: Analysis, Legal Issues, and Policy Considerations, by [author name scrubbed], [author name scrubbed], and [author name scrubbed]
CRS Report RS20898, The Help America Vote Act and Election Administration: Overview and Selected Issues for the 2016 Election, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed]
U.S. Department of Justice, "The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA): Questions and Answers"
U.S. Election Assistance Commission, "Election Management Guidelines"
The Federal Voting Assistance Program supports servicemembers, their families, and overseas citizens and their right to vote.
This section contains resources related to laws protecting the right to vote, including preventing discrimination in voter registration and voting procedures and poll access for individuals with disabilities and senior citizens.
Civil Rights Act of 1957 (P.L. 85-315)
Civil Rights Act of 1960 (P.L. 86-449)
Civil Rights Act of 1964 (P.L. 88-352)
Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) (P.L. 89-110)
The DOJ Voting Section maintains a list of cases in "Voting Section Litigation," sorted by section and act under which the claim arose.
Congress.gov tracks relevant bills with the legislative subject "Voting Rights."
Implementation of the Provisions of the Voting Rights Act Regarding Language Minority Groups, 28 C.F.R., Part 55.
CRS Legal Sidebar WSLG1350, The 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, by [author name scrubbed]
CRS Report R43626, The Voting Rights Act of 1965: Background and Overview, by [author name scrubbed]
U.S. Department of Justice, "History of Federal Voting Rights Laws"
U.S. Department of Justice, "Statutes Enforced by the Voting Section"
U.S. Department of Justice, "Voting Rights Policy and Guidance"
Campaign finance law addresses issues including fundraising, spending, and reporting. This section contains resources for conducting legal research on those topics.
Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA) (P.L. 92-225)
Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act of 1966 (PECA) (P.L. 89-809)
Federal courts have played a significant role in shaping campaign finance law, including invalidating portions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. The FEC maintains websites on "Selected Campaign Finance Law Court Cases" and a "Court Case Alphabetical Index."
CRS Report R41542, The State of Campaign Finance Policy: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress, by [author name scrubbed], discusses recent legislative activity on campaign finance. Tables 2 and 3 of the report identify and summarize related campaign finance legislation that has advanced beyond introduction in the 114th and the 113th Congresses. CRS Analyst Sam Garrett also authored a memorandum on "Campaign Finance Legislation Introduced in the 114th Congress," which is available to congressional staff upon request.5
Updated information on the status of the bills mentioned in these products is available from Congress.gov.
NCSL maintains a Campaign Finance Legislation Database that contains state legislation from 2015 onward. NCSL also maintains a database of archived state campaign finance legislation from 1993 to 2013.
Title 11, Chapter 1 of the Code of Federal Regulations contains regulations promulgated by the FEC.
The FEC also maintains its own site for regulatory information, "Commission Regulations." This includes the text of Title 11 of the C.F.R., the Searchable Electronic Rulemaking System, and an Index of Federal Register Notices.
CRS Report R44447, Campaign Contributions and the Ethics of Elected Officials: Regulation Under Federal Law, by [author name scrubbed], [author name scrubbed], and [author name scrubbed]
CRS Report R43719, Campaign Finance: Constitutionality of Limits on Contributions and Expenditures, by [author name scrubbed]
CRS In Focus IF10277, Candidates, Groups, and the Campaign Finance Environment: A Brief Overview, by [author name scrubbed]
CRS Report R41542, The State of Campaign Finance Policy: Recent Developments and Issues for Congress, by [author name scrubbed]
Federal Election Commission, "Campaign Finance Reports and Data"
Federal Election Commission, "Policy Statements, Interpretive Rules, and Other Guidance"
Federal Election Commission, "Presidential Election Campaign Fund Tax Check-Off Chart"
This section contains constitutional provisions, statutes, and resources for other aspects of presidential elections, including information on the Electoral College.
Title 3, Chapter 1 of the U.S. Code covers "Presidential Elections and Vacancies"
CRS Report RL32611, The Electoral College: How It Works in Contemporary Presidential Elections, by [author name scrubbed]
CRS Legal Sidebar WSLG1650, How Can the Results of a Presidential Election Be Contested?, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed]
CRS Report R43823, The National Popular Vote Initiative: Direct Election of the President by Interstate Compact, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed]
USA.gov, "Presidential Election Process"
National Archives and Records Administration, "U.S. Electoral College"
University of California at Santa Barbara, The American Presidency Project, "Presidential Elections Data"
Author Contact Information
The author would like to thank Paige Whitaker, Stuart Carmody, and Sam Garrett for their contributions to this report.
Congressional Research Service (CRS), Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (Washington, DC: U.S. GPO, 2013).
Federal Election Commission (FEC), "About the FEC," at http://www.fec.gov/about.shtml.
Help America Vote Act, P.L. 107-252, codified at 52 U.S.C. §§20901-21145 (2002).
CRS Report RS20898, The Help America Vote Act and Election Administration: Overview and Selected Issues for the 2016 Election, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed].
To request a copy of the memo, contact Sam Garrett at x76443.