Voting problems are nothing new. But as President Barack Obama showed Tuesday night, so are proposed solutions. In announcing his plan to create a new commission to “fix” long voting lines, Obama was mirroring similar efforts that followed the razor-thin — and infamously controversial — 2000 election. But unlike that response – Congress created the Election Assistance Commission that over the next decade doled out more than $3.2 billion to help states buy voting equipment, recruit poll workers and improve record keeping – the Obama White House has yet to say much about who’ll be named to the new commission or what they’ll be asked to do. Meanwhile, the 2002 commission is foundering, virtually inactive and unfunded. “There is nothing they are doing that is sufficient enough to justify their existence,” said U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., a longtime critic. “It’s the perfect example of what [former president] Ronald Reagan said — that the closest thing to eternal life on this Earth was a government program.” That may leave Florida voters, tens of thousands of whom waited up to seven hours to vote on Nov. 6, waiting to see if the lines they faced will become a serious federal issue or just more political fodder. At this point, it seems far more likely that the first response will come from the Florida Legislature.
In his State of the Union address, Obama could have been speaking directly to Florida voters: “When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right [to vote] simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals,” he said.
An Orlando Sentinel analysis of Florida’s 25 largest counties showed that more than 1,000 precincts had to stay open more than an extra hour on Nov. 6 to accommodate long lines, and more than 180 stayed open past 10 p.m., an extra three hours. Fifteen stayed open past midnight.
But two days after Obama’s speech, nothing more is known about Obama’s commission than the names of its co-chairs, two high-powered and highly partisan Washington attorneys.
Democrat Bob Bauer was Obama’s White House counsel in 2010-11 and then general counsel for Obama For America, and has written several law textbooks on federal election law. His Republican counterpart is Ben Ginsberg, general counsel to the Romney-Ryan campaign last fall, who also was general counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004 and was a key player in the fight over Florida’s contested 2000 presidential election outcome.
Neither man would comment about his role. And White House aides said they had little additional information about the commission’s mission, and none about its start date or funding.
Meanwhile, Florida is forging ahead to deal with its problems this spring.
Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner are pushing to restore many of the voting laws that were revised in 2010, notably to restore early voting to 14 days, expand the number of early-voting locations and reduce ballot length so that people in the voting booths are not overwhelmed by pages of issues.