A commission named by President Barack Obama to address the problem of long lines on Election Day had its first meeting last week — but few observers held out hope for major reform. Its first session Friday lasted less than an hour and drew fewer than 50 people. And even its co-chair downplayed expectations. “We will not be providing legislative recommendations,” said Ben Ginsberg, an attorney for the Mitt Romney campaign tapped by Obama to co-chair the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Instead, Ginsberg said the 10-member panel would be devising “best practices” to help states improve the efficiency of elections and registration while reducing wait times at the ballot box.
According to one estimate, about 3.9 percent of voters waited an hour or more to vote in the 2012 presidential election — about 5 million out of the roughly 130 million voters who had their ballots counted. Delays were particularly acute in Florida, where tens of thousands stood in line for hours — some for seven hours or longer.
The panel has until Dec. 21 to present recommendations to the White House, which could enact minor reform through executive order. But any major change likely would have to clear Congress, which has shown little capacity to do much lately.
And one election expert said that rather than pushing for major changes, the commission should take on the “unsexy” task of making sure localities can handle a crush of voters — by recommending standards on the number of machines and poll workers, or by helping develop better models to forecast when certain polling places might get jammed and adjusting accordingly.
“I wouldn’t be terribly expectant of anything big coming out of this,” said Doug Chapin with the University of Minnesota. “But it’s important not to confuse big with importance.”