Determining Election Rules and Ensuring Regulatory Compliance

The Federal Election Commission

The Constitution gives Congress the power to determine “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives.” That means determining dozens of rules regarding elections — drawing district boundaries, enhancing or weakening measures to protect vote counting standards, or testing and auditing voting systems.

The Commission has a statutorily defined role in these and other areas related to election administration. Commission staff support the work of agencies with more direct responsibilities through:

Commission Members

The Commission has four members who are nominated by the President on recommendations from the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and House. No more than two of the members may belong to the same political party. Once confirmed by the Senate, they serve for two consecutive terms.

The Commissioners set campaign finance laws, enforce these laws, and ensure regulatory compliance through clear and thorough public disclosure. These duties combined shape and uphold the American political landscape, promoting transparency, fairness, and democratic integrity.

Jim DeLanis was appointed to the WEC in 2013, after serving one year as a law clerk to Nashville Circuit Court Judge James Swiggart and two years as an assistant state attorney in the Criminal Division of the State of Tennessee. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Vanderbilt University School of Law. His goals as a commissioner are to ensure Wisconsin’s election laws are enforced fairly and impartially, and promote administrative and legal changes to restore voter confidence in our elections.

Commission Rules

The commission sets regulations, investigates complaints and prosecutes violations of federal election laws. Its members are selected for their experience, integrity and impartiality. They must be individuals who are not elected officers or employees in the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the federal government and who do not engage in any other business, vocation or employment that interferes with their duties as members of the commission.

The commission also promotes access to voting and assesses foreign and domestic efforts to influence U.S. campaigns and elections. It maintains records on these activities and keeps them public.

A small number of states have chosen to transfer the power to draw congressional districts from their legislatures to nonpartisan or bipartisan “independent redistricting commissions.” The commission reviews and approves these commissions. The commission chairperson is responsible for certifying the results of state and non-presidential federal elections, including county canvass determinations and certificates of ascertainment. It also certifies presidential election results and provides training for local election officials on a cyclical basis.

Commission Enforcement

The commission enforces laws against voter fraud, campaign finance crimes, patronage crimes, and other election-related violations. It also prosecutes or defends criminal cases brought to it by the attorney general.

In addition, the commission disseminates best practices to state election officials, reviews and approves voting system guidelines, and conducts research on elections. It has four advisory boards composed of experts in the field to assist it in its work.

In a case where it finds reason to believe that the law has been violated, the commission may bring a suit in federal court. Its actions are subject to the approval of four Commissioners, who must agree that there is cause for a suit before it is filed. The commission keeps these enforcement matters confidential until they close. Anyone can submit a complaint about alleged violations. This is known as sua sponte submission. The commission also receives complaints through a formal submission process. Its staff then investigates and analyzes the evidence before filing a suit.

Commission Resources

Although state and local governments set election policy and law, the federal government plays a role in a wide range of areas. This guide describes the agencies and offices that can help election officials, the public, and researchers.

The FEC enforces federal campaign finance laws, monitors donor restrictions and limits, and oversees public funding for Presidential campaigns. It also helps to promote confidence and participation in elections by disclosing election information, maintaining voter registration rolls, and endorsing political parties.

EAC supports state and local election officials in their efforts to conduct accessible, accurate, and secure elections by developing guidance that meets HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, serving as a clearinghouse of information on election administration, accrediting laboratories, certifying systems, and auditing the use of HAVA funds. EAC maintains a small staff to carry out these activities and to provide research support for the election community. This staff includes a number of interns. The Commission also maintains a network of outside experts and vendors who help to carry out its responsibilities.

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