Barack Obama has ordered the creation of a non-partisan commission on voting rights in the US in an attempt to remove the hurdles to democratic participation that dogged the 2012 presidential election. The announcement of the commission on voting puts flesh on the promise Obama made in his second inaugural speech last month to fix America’s broken voting system. Last November, voters in main urban centres were inconvenienced by long lines at polling stations that in some areas forced citizens to wait for hours before casting their ballot. Florida, in particular, witnessed chaotic scenes with more than 200,000 voters estimated to have given up having waiting because the queues were so long. Obama said that the impediments to voting needed to be corrected, as voting was “our most fundamental right as citizens. When 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 president added: “We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.”
The White House had signalled earlier in the day that Obama intended to put voting rights on his state of the nation agenda. Among the official guests was 102-year-old Desiline Victor, from Miami, who spent three hours waiting to vote at her local library on election night before she was told to come back later that evening when crowds had cleared.
“Hour after hour,” said Obama, “a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read ‘I Voted.'” She was given a standing ovation, though Republican speaker John Boehner attracted criticism for not rising to his feet.
… In the wake of Obama’s pledge to deal with the threat to unhindered political participation, the Brennan Center for Justice, a leading thinktank on voting rights based at New York University, has produced a three-part plan to fix the problem of long queues at the polls. The blueprint calls for a modernised voter registration system, more early voting and the creation of uniform national standards for access to polling stations. The Brennan Center’s Larry Norden said that the bi-partisan commission was an “important step towards improving the experience of voters. He spoke powerfully about the need to reform the way we do elections in this country.”