The world’s greatest democracy is not so great at running elections, as we all saw in 2012. There were, among other things, long lines at polling places, botched registrations, and mysterious rules on absentee ballots. As President Obama declared victory on election night, he wanted to do something about these problems. He appointed a (very) bipartisan commission, chaired by two self-described “partisan hacks”: Robert Bauer (Obama’s personal lawyer and his one-time White House counsel) and Benjamin Ginsberg (the national counsel to the Romney campaign and many other Republican causes). Wednesday, after six months of work, the “lines commission,” as it’s known, released a hundred-page report. Notwithstanding the strong party affiliations of its leaders, the group was unanimous in its recommendations. Its an unexpectedly bold document, especially in light of the strong partisan differences over voting these days. Every since the Republican landslides of 2010, states have been tightening the requirements to vote, and Democrats have cried voter suppression. The commission avoids the especially controversial issues of photo-identification requirements and the future of the Voting Rights Act, but it strikes out in a clear pro-voting direction.
The key recommendations come in four areas:
• More early voting. More mail and Internet voting would take care of the biggest problem in 2012, long lines. This is a clear embrace of a Democratic priority.
• Easier voter registration, including online. Again, this is a top Democratic priority, though the commission also gives a nod to technologies that compare databases and allow purges of ineligible voters, which have been a Republican cause.
• Improved voting technology. After the 2000 fiasco in Florida, the federal government subsidized the purchase of many new voting machines, but these are now approaching the end of their useful lives. The commission recommends ending the hegemony of the specialized voting machine and allowing voters to use their own computers to print out their ballots at home, like they do with boarding passes. With the right security in place, this makes all the sense in the world.