Obama launches panel to reduce long lines at polls

Voters wait hours in long lines to cast their early vote at the Summit County Board of Elections on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Akron, Ohio. About 30 million...
Voters wait hours in long lines to cast their early vote at the Summit County Board of Elections on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Akron, Ohio. About 30 million...
AP Photo/Akron Beacon Journal, Paul Tople

More than six months after declaring on election night that “we’ve got to fix” long lines at the polls that forced some voters to wait up to eight hours, President Obama has announced the members of his commission on election administration. The list includes a mix of business executives, public officials, and election administrators, but no dedicated voting-rights advocates.

Obama had previously revealed that Washington super-lawyers Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, a Democrat and Republican respectively, would chair the panel. Tuesday, he named the following eight commissioners:

- 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

Obama also announced that Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Columbia Law School who has generally been skeptical of voting restrictions aimed at combating fraud, will be the commission’s senior research director.  And the commission unveiled a new website, supportthevoter.gov.

The commission has six months to deliver a report with recommendations for fixes. As part of reducing long lines, it will look into fixing the error-plagued and incomplete voter registration system—51 million Americans are eligible to vote but not registered—and improving election facilities and machines.

Rick Hasen, a professor at UC Irvine law school and an expert on voting issues, said the omission of voting-rights advocates reflects an attempt to keep the panel from being bogged down in partisan squabbling.

“While including voting-rights advocates might make sense in the abstract, the Commission is walking a difficult political line to stay above the partisan fray as much as possible,” Hasen said via email. “Including voting-rights advocates would have led those on the right to call for more balance.”

Elizabeth McNamara, the president of the League of Women Voters, criticized what she views as the panel’s narrow mandate.

“This is a weak response to a big problem,” McNamara said in a statement. “We need bold action to protect Americans from the risk of disenfranchisement.”

In an interview with msnbc, McNamara elaborated. ”If they’re not talking about secure online voter registration that’s available to everybody, not just those with driver’s licenses; if they’re not talking about early voting; if they’re not talking about polling place resources; if they’re not talking about permanent and portable voter registration, then we just don’t believe that they’re going to be talking about the issues that really cause the lines on Election Day,” she said.

Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center, which earlier this year released a lengthy study on fixing long lines at the polls,  said in a statement:

We are delighted the president’s voting commission will soon be up and running. The commission will spotlight the urgent need to improve our election system to ensure it works well for all eligible Americans. We urge the commission to recommend bold solutions to modernize voting. America needs to upgrade how we register voters, when we vote, and how we manage polling places. We hope this will be a great step forward to improve the way America runs elections and ensure the system is free, fair, and accessible.