President Obama has finally established a new bipartisan commission on election administration, something he promised to do in his Feb. 12 State of the Union address. He signed an executive order Thursday making it official.
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration is being headed by two longtime Washington attorneys, Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg. Bauer was general counsel to the president’s re-election campaign and is also Obama’s former White House counsel. Ginsberg was national counsel to Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and also to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns.
According to White House spokesman Josh Earnest, the commission will look at ways to shorten lines at the polls and to “promote the efficient conduct of elections.” The panel has been directed to submit a final report within six months of its first public meeting. Earnest did not know when that first meeting would be held.
The president’s executive order says the commission will have no more than nine members, and will look at things such as polling place design, poll worker training and recruitment, and voting technology.
A number of election experts have expressed doubts that the panel will have much impact, because the goals are modest. Earnest said the commission’s final report is “intended to serve as a best practices guide for state and local election officials to improve voters’ experience at the polls under their existing election laws.” The panel’s recommendations will be non-binding.
Academics, election officials and others have been studying ways to improve election administration for years, and it’s unclear what, if anything, new the commission can come up with in six months. According to experts, long lines at the polls can be caused by a wide variety of things, such as ballot length, inadequate voting equipment, poll worker errors or problems with registration rolls.
Still, there was public outrage in areas, such as Miami, where some Florida voters had to wait for eight or more hours to cast their ballots last November.
White House spokesman Earnest said the president still supports legislative proposals in Congress “to improve the voting experience, make voter registration easier and increase access to voting for all Americans.”
But some people worry that, by appointing the commission, the president has undermined those Democratic-led efforts. After his State of the Union address, League of Women Voters President Elisabeth MacNamara called the commission plan “lip service,” in place of “bold action.” She told NPR at the time: “Long lines occur every four years. There is no real mystery as to why this happens. And there are immediate things that can be done and were not called for.”
She said these include things such as requiring states to offer more early voting and online voter registration, and other measures to make voting easier that are included in proposed legislation on Capitol Hill.