Obama election panel: Voters shouldn't wait more than 30 minutes

McClatchy Washington BureauJanuary 22, 2014 

A post 2012 election panel appointed by President Barack Obama today presented Obama with a series of election law fixes -- saying voters shouldn't have to wait in line for more than 30 minutes.

The recommendations include expanding voting before Election Day and having states update and exchange voter registration lists.

Obama, who met at the White House with the panel, said he had pledged election night in 2012 to address reports of "tremendously long lines" at voting booths.

"We intend to publicize this and to then reach out to stakeholders all across the country to make sure that we can implement this," Obama said, noting the report is not directed at Congress or the federal government, but to the state and local jurisdictions that carry out elections.

The report is based on a six-month study conducted by the bipartisan, 10-member Presidential Commission on Election Administration which studied voting problems, including myriad complaints about long voting lines during the 2012 election.

The commission -- whose co chairs included 2012 Obama and Mitt Romney campaign attorneys -- concluded unanimously that the “problems that hinder the efficient administration of elections are both identifiable and solvable," the White House says.

The report offers recommendations and numerous administrative "best practices" to improve problem areas identified in Obama's executive order that set up the commission.

The commission heard testimony from around the country -- including at a hearing in Miami which experienced extreme delays -- and evaluated the results of a survey of 1,000's of state and local administrators, the White House said.

The commission said it found that “jurisdictions could solve the problem of long lines through a combination of planning …and the efficient allocation of resources.”

The commission found that no voter should have to wait in line for more than 30 minutes to vote. Its making available a series of on-line tools, recommendations and best practices to help elections officials prevent the recurrence of long lines in the future. They can be found at the commission’s website and will be hosted on the site of the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project.

The report includes what its members say is a "comprehensive analysis on a range of structural problems within the electoral process."

The co-chairs -- who served as counsel to Obama and Romney's campaigns -- said they hoped to "transcend partisan divisions" in the report.

"We think we have a series of practical solutions to the problems that plague people when they go into the voting booth each day," said Ben Ginsberg, who served as campaign attorney for Romney's 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

He said the commission examined online voting but found security concerns at this point are "too great." He endorsed voters downloading absentee ballots from the Internet, but said they would have to be returned “through traditional methods.”

Co-chairman Bob Bauer, the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaign’s attorney, said the fixes don't need any congressional authority

The report’s other key recommendations include:

· An expansion of online voter registration by the states to enhance both accuracy of the voter rolls and efficiency;

· Having all states update and exchange their voter registration lists to create the most accurate lists possible to increase registration rates, reduce costs, and protect against fraud.

· The expansion of voting before Election Day, recognizing that the majority of states now provide either mail balloting or in-person early voting and that voters are increasingly seeking these options;

· The increased use of schools as polling places, since they are the best-equipped facilities in most jurisdictions, with security concerns met by scheduling an in-service training day for students and teachers on Election Day;

· Recognizing and addressing the impending crisis in voting technology as machines bought 10 years ago with post-2000 federal funds wear out and require replacement with no federal appropriations on the horizon;

· To usher in this needed next generation of equipment, reforming the standards and certification process to allow innovation and the adoption of widely available and significantly less expensive off-the-shelf technologies and “software-only” solutions;

· Improving the ability of military and overseas voters to access ballots and other voting materials through the states’ websites;

· The increased use of electronic pollbooks for greater accuracy and efficiency;

· Assuring that polling places are accessible to all voters, are located close to where voters live and are designed to function smoothly;

· Increasing and enhancing training and recruitment of poll workers, in the recognition that volunteer poll workers are voters’ primary source of contact during the actual voting process;

· Having jurisdictions form advisory groups to address the needs of voters with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency; and

· Collecting election data on a uniform basis to enable enhanced analysis to improve the voter experience.

The commission highlights what it calls a "complete, proven technology solution" for online registration developed by Rock the Vote, which says it worked with the commission.

"The approach we lay out in our white paper could change online voter registration from being a digital version of an antiquated paper process to a comprehensive approach that leverages technology to truly modernize the process," said Rock the Vote's president Heather Smith. She noted the voter registration group is offering the voter registration system free to state and local elections officials. The ACLU hailed the recommendations, but said they need further review "for their civil rights and privacy implications.

"We welcome efforts to improve election administration in this country, which is woefully out of date in far too many jurisdictions," said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office.

Serving on the Commission were: · Robert F. Bauer, Co-Chair and Member – Partner, Perkins Coie LLP · Benjamin L. Ginsberg, Co-Chair and Member – Partner, Patton Boggs LLP · Brian Britton, Member – Vice President, Global Park Operations and Planning at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts · Joe Echevarria, Member – Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte LLP · Trey Grayson, Member – Director of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University · Larry Lomax, Member – Clark County (Nevada) Registrar · Michele Coleman Mayes, Member – Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary for the New York Public Library · Ann McGeehan, Member – Assistant General Counsel of the Texas County and District Retirement System · Tammy Patrick, Member – Federal Compliance Officer for the Maricopa County (Arizona) Elections Department · Christopher Thomas, Member – Director of Elections in the Michigan Department of State Professor Nathaniel Persily of Stanford University served as the Commission’s Research Director.

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