State Of The Union, voting

On Tuesday President Obama mentioned improving voting in the State Of The Union address:

We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote. 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. That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it. We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.

Perhaps the President was at least in part influenced by letters from advocates, sent after his previous reference to fixing the problems surfacing in last November’s election <here> <hear>

Here are the high level details spelled out by the Whitehouse <read>

  • Reduce Long Voting Lines: The Presidential Commission on Election Administration will develop recommendations for state and local election officials to reduce waiting times at the polls and improve all citizens’ voting experience.
  • Commonsense, Non-Partisan Solutions: The Commission will be co-chaired by two recognized practitioners and experts in the field, Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, whose experience in this field include Bauer’s role as General Counsel for the President’s campaign and Ginsberg’s as National Counsel for Governor Romney’s campaign…

The value and risk will be in the details. Will the commission effectively address problems without causing unintended consequences? Or will it be a mixed bag of expensive reforms like the Help America Vote Act?

There are many good improvements possible. But often what seems like common sense turns out to be incorrect reasoning . For instance, as we have pointed out here many times, early voting actually reduces turn-out, flying in the face of the common sense notion that it would obviously increase turn-out. <here> <here>

We are also skeptical of another section:

Assist members of the military and other voters: The Commission will also make
recommendations to improve the experience of voters facing other, comparable
obstacles in casting their ballots, such as members of the military, overseas voters,
voters with disabilities, and voters with limited English proficiency.

We hope that when assisting the members of the Military and other Overseas voters that the Commission will look to states that have been successful in the practical implementation of the MOVE Act. Rather than the common sense counter factual argument that “If we can bank safely online line, why can’t we vote online” (We cannot because voting is a much harder to secure application and online banking is safe for us only because banks pay the billions lost each year in looses due to  fraud)
Time will tell if the Commission and the Congress follow through on sensible reforms and heed the advice of advocates to consider voting integrity as part of actual reforms. In addition to skepticism we are hopeful reading these words from the details that may lead the Commission in a positive direction:

Practical Reforms: By Executive Order, the President will charge the
Commission to consider such issues, and identify practical, commonsense steps
that state and local election officials can take to improve the Election Day
experience. The Commission will also identify the practices of voting
jurisdictions where voters have the best Election Day experience.

For more reactions see <TheVotingNews> <BradBlog>


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