A group of Democratic senators is urging President Obama’s election commission to take “strong steps” to ensure that voters are no longer forced to wait hours to cast their ballots, as occurred last November in some areas of the country.
“The existence of long lines…defective voting machines, and the lack of staff and adequate resources at polling locations created inexcusable conditions for voters,” Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Chris Coons of Delaware, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Bill Nelson of Florida said in a letter to the commission’s chairmen sent Tuesday. “Lines created by these conditions are forcing citizens to decide between casting their ballot or caring for a sick child, or earning a paycheck to feed their families. This is a choice that no citizen should have to face.”
Some Virginia voters waited up to five hours to vote in last year’s election, and some Floridians waited seven. That led President Obama to signal his commitment to address the issue during his Election Night victory speech. After praising voters for waiting in long lines to cast their ballots, he departed from his prepared text to add: “We’ve got to fix that.”
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, created by Obama earlier this year, is chaired by Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, prominent election lawyers for the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. The panel is scheduled to hold its first public meeting on June 21.
In the letter, the senators urge the commission to hold public meetings in areas of the country where lines were longest but not necessarily restricted to Virginia and Florida. “Voters in these areas had the most difficulty in having their voices heard on Election Day, and are those most deserving of the opportunity to be heard at your public hearings,” the lawmakers write.
They also want the panel to determine whether the long lines were the result of racial discrimination. The senators note a recent MIT report finding that blacks and Hispanics waited twice as long to vote as whites did last year.
And they say the commission should recommend legislation for Congress to pass, based on several measures that have already been introduced. Those bills focus on reducing wait times and on improving the voter registration system.
Some voting-rights advocates have criticized the appointed commission, whose recommendations are non-binding, as a weak response to the problems of the U.S. election system, pointing to the commission’s hyper-partisan chairs, among other issues. But others suggest that the inclusion of Ginsburg, known for his hardball tactics in support of the GOP in past elections, will be crucial to winning Republican buy-in for the panel’s ultimate recommendation.