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Federal Role in U.S. Campaigns and Elections: An Overview – Federal Role in U.S. Campaigns and Elections: An Overview R. Sam Garrett, Specialist in American National Government. September 4, 2018.

“Conventional wisdom holds that the federal government plays relatively little role in U.S. campaigns and elections. Although states retain authority for most aspects of election administration, a closer look reveals that the federal government also has steadily increased its presence in campaigns and elections in the past 50 years. Altogether, dozens of congressional committees and federal agencies could be involved in federal elections under current law.

Congress faces a complex mix of traditional oversight areas with developing ones throughout the elections field. Reports of foreign interference during the 2016 election cycle, and concerns about future interference, have raised the profile of campaigns and elections policy in Congress, at federal agencies, and beyond. As Congress considers these and other developing issues, this report provides the House and Senate with a resource for first understanding the current campaigns and elections regulatory structure. The report addresses those areas of law and public policy that most directly and routinely affect American campaigns and elections. This includes six broad categories of law through which Congress has assigned various agencies roles in regulating or supporting campaigns, elections, or both. These are campaign finance; election administration; election security; redistricting; qualifications and contested elections; and voting rights.

No single federal agency is in charge of the federal role in campaigns and elections, just as multiple statutes address various aspects of the field. The Election Assistance Commission and Federal Election Commission are devoted entirely to campaigns and elections. Congress has charged other departments and agencies—such as the Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and component organizations comprising the Intelligence Community—primarily with responsibilities for other areas of public policy, but also with supporting or administering campaigns and elections policy in specific cases. Other agencies or statutes may be relevant in specific cases. This report does not track legislation that proposes changes in the policy environment discussed herein. It will be updated occasionally to reflect new information or major policy developments.”

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