By THE NT TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD JAN. 22, 2014
A superb report released Wednesday by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration can be summarized in one quick sentence: There are many ways to make voting easier in America. There shouldn’t be the slightest whiff of controversy or partisanship about that concept, or the important suggestions made in the report. But, of course, there is, and that makes the commission’s persuasive logic and research all the more valuable.
President Obama appointed the commission last year to address the problem of long lines at the polls in 2012. At a time when states were deliberately keeping people from voting with draconian ID requirements, that seemed a narrow goal, but members of the commission did far better than expected in showing the many ways that the nation’s patchwork of state and local election laws has contributed to low turnouts.
Led by two election-law experts from opposing parties — Robert Bauer, a Democrat, and Benjamin Ginsberg, a Republican — the commission didn’t get into politicized voter ID issues, though it did note that fraud is rare. It agreed, however, on a set of a principles that ought to be considered fundamental: No one should have to wait more than 30 minutes to vote. Ballots should be simple; registration efficient. Polling places should be well-organized and workers properly trained.
That’s an ideal experienced by few voters, who often stand in long lines caused by broken machines, confusing ballots, and useless poll workers. To fix the problems, the report makes several recommendations:
EARLY VOTING The report said early voting is one of the best ways to involve more people in the political process, allowing them to cast a ballot at their convenience and reducing Election Day congestion. Only 32 states allow some form of in-person early voting, and many Republican lawmakers have tried to cut back on it in the belief that it favors Democrats. The commission said every state should adopt the idea in some form, citing a bipartisan consensus of election administrators.
ONLINE REGISTRATION The report says every state should move to online registration, which reduces the chances of errors, makes registration easy, and is far less expensive than paper systems. Registration has gone up significantly in states that have adopted these systems.
BETTER TECHNOLOGY The electronic and optical machines purchased with federal funds after the 2000 balloting disaster are wearing out, and there is no new money to replace them. The commission said the federal government needs to set clear national standards for new machines and certify the ones that work, replacing the federal Election Assistance Commission, which currently has no members thanks to Republican-led skirmishing in Congress. One suggestion made by the report is that voters be allowed to print out a ballot at home and fill it in before bringing it to the polling place for scanning.
POLL WORKERS States and cities should bring in more students and private-sector workers, and use fewer retirees. Colleges and employers should be encouraged to let students and workers volunteer. States should require far more training than the 2 to 4 hours that the average poll worker currently receives.
The most important idea in the report, endorsed by members of both parties on the panel, is that these are national problems requiring a national solution. It is no longer tenable for voting to be difficult in one state but easy next door. Republicans may continue to fight to keep large groups of minorities, low-income people and students from participating in the democratic process, but after the commission’s report, there can no longer be any doubt that there are no legitimate reasons for their resistance.