On the night President Obama won a second term, he thanked "every American who participated" in the election, whether they voted "for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time." He quickly added a line that wasn't in the written text: "By the way, we have to fix that."
And as we talked about last March, the president didn't forget about the issue. Obama referenced the issue again in his inaugural address: "Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote." A month later, in a State of the Union address, the president went a step further, not only emphasizing the need for election reforms, but vowing to create "a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America -- and it definitely needs improvement."
The White House assembled the commission, which, following six months of effort, released its report this morning. It's actually better than I expected it to be.
States should implement online voter registration and expand early voting in order to reduce long lines at the voting booth, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommended in a report issued Wednesday. The 10-member commission, announced by President Barack Obama during his 2013 State of the Union address, was formed to examine the issues that led to crowding at some polling places in 2012. It was chaired by Bob Bauer, former general counsel for the 2012 Obama campaign, and Ben Ginsberg, the Mitt Romney campaign's former top election lawyer. The panel based its recommendations on the premise that nobody should have to wait more than a half-hour to vote.
The full, 112-page report is online here (pdf), and its list of recommendations is not brief. Unfortunately for state Republican policymakers, who've launched efforts of late to restrict voting rights on a scale unlike anything seen in the United States since Jim Crow, the non-partisan panel is urging sensible reforms, including expanding early voting and utilizing more schools as polling places.
Rick Hasen, an elections-law expert, took a deeper dive and concluded, "Kudos to the Commissioners and staff for accomplishing much more than I thought could be accomplished given the limited charge. Given the charge, this is a tremendous accomplishment. If these changes could be implemented it would positively affect the voting experience of millions of voters."
Which brings us to the "if these changes could be implemented" part.
The White House's non-partisan commission investigated existing problems, considered possible solutions, and presented credible proposals. The panel is not, however, a policymaking body -- panelists make recommendations, but they don't act on them.
What's more, while President Obama was responsible for creating the commission and welcomes its findings, the next step isn't up to him, either. Indeed, Obama held a brief event at the White House this morning where he thanked the commission and said his administration intends to "publicize" the report and to "reach out to stakeholders all across the country to make sure that we can implement this."
Whether the stakeholders are interested is another question. Remember, many of the voting fiascos in 2012 were not the result of an accident -- Republican policymakers made a conscious decision to make the voting process more difficult. The resulting mess was, as far as the GOP was concerned, a feature, not a bug.
As we've discussed before, Republicans have come to the conclusion that the more voters are able to participate, the harder it is to GOP candidates to succeed. The result has been predictable: a policy agenda that creates longer voting lines on purpose, closes early-voting windows, addresses imaginary voter fraud through punitive voter-ID laws, and restricts voter-registration drives.
In this sense, the new non-partisan commission represents something of a challenge to Republican policymakers at every level: you can make it easier or harder for Americans to participate in their own democracy. This panel concluded that "no citizen should have to wait more than 30 minutes to vote," and presented steps to help ensure that standard is met.
Are Republican officials prepared to take this seriously or not?