Panel advises sweeping voting overhaul

A panel commissioned by the White House to examine the nation's voting laws after some Americans were forced to wait hours to cast their ballots during the 2012 presidential election presented President Obama with a report on Wednesday calling for a dramatic overhaul of the nation's electoral practices.

After studying the nation's election laws for the past six months, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration argued that through "a combination of planning … and the efficient allocation of resources," local jurisdictions could cut wait times at the polls to less than half an hour.

ADVERTISEMENT
"Problems that hinder the efficient administration of elections are both identifiable and solvable," the commission wrote in its 112-page report.

The panel recommended a dozen major changes to electoral practices, including an expansion of online voter registration and early voting.

The group also called for new federal funding to replace voting machines and the creation of local advisory groups to address the needs of voters with disabilities and limited English proficiency.

“Our aim was to transcend partisan divisions and view election administration as public administration that must heed the expressed interests and expectations of voters,” said commission co-chairs Robert Bauer and Benjamin Ginsberg in a joint statement. Bauer served as general counsel to President Obama's reelection campaign, while Ginsberg served in the same role for Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

The commission also recommended a series of steps designed to prevent voter fraud, including having states update and exchange their voter registration lists to prevent duplicate registrations. The panel also called for a reform for the standards and certification processes for electronic polls, and increased training for poll workers.

At the White House on Wednesday, Obama thanked the commission for its work.

"A lot of the recommendations they've made are common sense; they are ones that can be embraced by all of us," Obama said.

Obama appointed the 10-member commission after vowing in his State of the Union speech to address problems with electoral practices. He memorably recognized Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Miami woman who waited hours to cast her ballot, during his remarks.

"When any Americans — no matter where they live or what their party — are denied that right simply because they can't wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals," Obama said at the time.

The Orlando Sentinel estimated that some 200,000 voters likely gave up on voting in 2012 because of the wait times.

Still, whether the panel's non-binding recommendations will ultimately spur any action remains a serious question. Any new federal allocations for voting technology would need congressional approval, and most of the panel's recommendations for electoral practices would need to be adopted on a state or county level. According to the panel's report, there are approximately 8,000 different jurisdictions that administer elections nationwide.

Some voting rights groups, including the League of Women Voters (LWV), have criticized the panel as "business as usual."

"This is a weak response to a big problem," LWV president Elisabeth MacNamara said in a statement when the commissioners were first named. "We need bold action to protect Americans from the risk of disenfranchisement."

Obama said he intended "to publicize this and to then reach out to stakeholders all across the country to make sure that we can implement this" in hopes of spurring action.

The panel's recommendations also come less than a week after a bipartisan bill aimed at restoring crucial provisions of the Voting Rights Act was introduced in the House. Last year, the Supreme Court gutted a provision of the landmark legislation, ordering lawmakers to rewrite standards for which jurisdictions would need to seek preclearance from the federal government before changing voting practices.