President Obama said last month that no one should have to wait more than half an hour to vote. Now two Democratic senators are introducing a bill aimed at making that pledge a reality.
The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida, is the first effort to act on the recommendations of a bipartisan presidential commission, unveiled last month.
“In a democracy, you’re supposed to make it easier and less of hardship for people to vote, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” said Nelson in a statement sent out Wednesday evening.
The two senators first introduced the Lines Interfere with National Elections (LINE) Act in late 2012, in response to the lines that kept some Florida, Virginia, and Ohio voters waiting up to seven hours to cast a ballot. In his election night victory speech, Obama pledged to “fix” the problem.
Now Boxer and Nelson have updated the legislation to include recommendations from the presidential commission, which was co-chaired by Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, the top lawyers for Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s campaigns, respectively. That panel suggested several ideas—among them expanding various forms of early voting; promoting online registration, and cleaning up the rolls—to make the voting process smoother and more efficient.
The commission found that over 5 million voters waited more than an hour to vote in 2012. Boxer and Nelson’s bill would require that states that saw long wait times—a list that would be determined by the attorney general and Election Assistance Commission—put in place a plan to fix the problem before the next federal election.
But the bill likely would face a tough road to passage. Republicans already have signaled deep skepticism about implementing the commission’s recommendations, citing the states’ authority to run elections as they see fit.
Also Wednesday, Bauer and Ginsberg testified before the Senate Rules Committee about their recommendations. Asked whether the long lines in 2012 were the result of intentional efforts to disenfranchise voters, Ginsberg said no.
“This was a management issue,” he said. “There were no plots or conspiracies that caused the lines.”
But management problems may not explain the entire issue: Wait times disproportionately affected minority voters, a detailed study found. The commission did not address that issue in its report.