The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration presented its study on election reform to a Senate committee.
“Republicans and Democrats agree that every legally registered voter has the right to be able to cast his or her ballot easily and without barriers,” Benjamin Ginsberg,the commission co-chair and a partner in the Patton Boggs law firm,said.
The commission,headed by Ginsberg and Robert Bauer,a parnter in the Perkins Coie law firm,was created by President Barack Obama to study voter turnout.
Ginsburg worked as national counsel for former Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign,and Bauer is the former White House counsel for the Obama administration.
The report refers to images of voters waiting for more than six hours to vote on Election Day 2012 in some districts. While wait times such as these were the extreme,more than 5 million voters waited between half an hour and an hour to cast their ballots.
Members of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration were mainly concerned about long lines at polling stations.
“In reality,most Americans don’t even think about the running of an election until something goes wrong,” committee chair Sen. Charles Schumer,D-N.Y.,said. “As recently as the 2012 election,many poll places throughout the country had unacceptably long lines. This wasn’t the first election with that problem,but we would all like it to be the last.”
Among the committee’s recommendations are streamlining voting technology,extending the time ballots can be filled out both online and through the mail,decreasing waiting time in lines and training poll workers to better help voters.
“The commission recognized that our elections are administered by approximately 8,000 different jurisdictions largely using volunteers who do not receive much training,” Ginsburg said. “As a result,achieving uniformity,or federal solutions that actually work in our elections,has proven challenging.”
Some committee members asked about creating a plan to better voter experience,which more state districts will be encouraged to use.
The report said that,after poll workers get proper training,lines should never be longer than half an hour.
“We did not make federal legislative recommendations,” Bauer said. “That was outside of our charge. But we heard a fair amount about the extent to which jurisdictions have,or have not,successfully complied with different federal laws enacted to protect particular populations of voters.”
The report offered suggestions such as providing Internet feeds to voters about how long lines at their chosen polling location are,employing “line walkers” to fix problems before the voter reaches the ballot box and making sample ballots available to voters no later than three weeks before Election Day so voters can choose candidates before going to their polling place.
The report said reducing the length of the ballot itself during presidential election years could cut down on waiting time.
Both Bauer and Ginsburg said that many jurisdictions do not want national voting rules imposed on them because “one size does not fit all.” The report concludes that voting laws ought to be “of a size that should fit all.”
Bauer said the main problem for fixing problems is funding.
“Elections may occur relatively frequently in our nation,but issues of election administration only infrequently draw public attention,” Bauer said. “Elections are,by and large,shuffled to the bottom of the deck of budget priorities.”
Reach reporter Caitlin Turner at [email protected] or 202-326-9865202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.