President Barack Obama is already taking heat over the first promise he made after winning reelection — and he may not be able to deliver on it at all. Obama’s thank yous on election night included a special nod to the voters who “waited in line for a very long time” — some as many as seven hours in Florida, Ohio and Virginia. Then he stopped his speech to make a point: “By the way, we have to fix that.” “Fix that” has become a rallying cry for lawmakers and election reform advocates who’ve long been looking to tackle problems with voting machines, long ballots and under-prepared poll workers. And though Obama has almost no direct power to bring about changes — the mechanics of elections are largely determined by state and local governments — they’re frustrated that he hasn’t used his bully pulpit to force a conversation past election night.
“The president is sworn to uphold the Constitution, and if he doesn’t speak out on problems with voting, he’s not really fulfilling that responsibility,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who introduced a bill in December to eliminate waits by requiring the Justice Department and the Election Assistance Commission to issue minimum standards for voting machines and election workers in an effort to prevent long lines.
“The right to vote is the key to our democracy,” Boxer said. “And I believe if citizens are made to wait on line, it is an infringement of that right.” One study, conducted by a professor at Ohio State University, found that as many as 49,000 people in central Florida were discouraged from voting because of long lines at their polling places.
Freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), whose district includes some of perennially electorally challenged southern part of the state, agrees. “If the president took it up as one of his big issues and spoke about it for a couple of days, lots of people would realize this is a real problem and want action,” he said.
But the president isn’t saying more about what he’d like to see done — or might do himself. Instead, the White House directed inquiries to a recent speech by Attorney General Eric Holder. Speaking in December at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Holder laid out the administration’s general position, saying that election officials should be “taking steps to address long lines at polling places — and ensuring that every polling place has an adequate number of voting machines.”