If we don’t fix voting problems, ‘we are betraying our ideals’

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President Obama moved forward on his election night promise to “fix” the long lines in his State of the Union address, announcing a bipartisan commission to be helmed by two lawyers from either side of the aisle, one who worked with Obama and another who worked with his Republican challenger in the last election, Mitt Romney.

“We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home,” the president said in his address to Congress. “That includes our most fundamental right as citizens:  the right to vote. When any Americans–no matter where they live or what their party–are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals.”

The lawyers helping that commission will apparently be Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsburg. Ben Ginsburg served as counsel to Romney in both his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Ginsburg has also worked on voting issues for Republicans in the past. He represented the George W. Bush campaign during the controversial Florida recount in 2000 and oversaw Republican redistricting efforts after the 1990 and 2000 Censuses.

Bob Bauer, in his role as general counsel for the Obama campaign, successfully argued last summer that the Ohio should restore early voting for all voters after Republicans in the state tried to limit it to only military voters.

Bauer understands that voter suppression extends beyond the voter ID laws that have gotten the most attention. In an opinion piece he penned for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Bauer complained about the “limitations on voter registration… and on early voting,” as key restrictions that posed a “threat to the right to vote.”

That battle will leave Bauer especially ready to help people like Desiline Victor, the 102 year old voter who sat with the First Lady during the address. The president highlighted her story in the speech, explaining how she waited in a three hour long line to vote.

“When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours,” he said. “And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say.  Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her.”

He continued, “Because Desiline is 102 years old.  And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read ‘I Voted.’”

The president appears determined to fix the problems that Victor and countless other voters faced at the polls last year.

“We can fix this, and we will,” he said. ” The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.”

NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, which has released numerous reports on voting rights and ways to fix voting problems in a America, reacted to the president’s newly announced voting commission in a statement released after the address:

Tonight, the president spoke powerfully of the need to improve the way we run elections in America. He’s absolutely right. His appointment of a new bipartisan commission is an important step, focusing on improving the experience of voters. This should be a critical part of the larger mission of modernizing elections so every eligible citizen can vote and have that vote counted. The moving story of Desiline Victor, told by the president tonight, underscores how vital this mission is. We urge the commission to think boldly, and we urge the Congress to do its part by enacting minimum national standards to modernize elections.


Related links: ‘Let’s get it done’: Confident and combative, President Obama took charge in his State of the Union speech.  Read about what he said on immigration, the minimum wage, deficit reduction, and education. Read or watch the full speech here.

If we don't fix voting problems, 'we are betraying our ideals'

Updated