Robert Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, two of the nation’s pre-eminent election lawyers, have long been on opposing sides of legal arguments. Last fall they were quarreling over voter registration, early voting laws and how the debates should be staged between their respective clients, President Obama and Mitt Romney. But for the next six months they will be working side by side on a new presidential commission, surveying election officials and customer service specialists — possibly from theme parks and other crowded places — to find ways to streamline how Americans cast their ballots and reduce the long lines that kept hundreds of thousands of people from voting in November. The president, in announcing the commission during his State of the Union address on Tuesday, noted that the presence of Mr. Ginsberg, a longtime Republican, would lend credibility and move beyond party politics to ensure its bipartisan nature.
Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to the president, said the timing of the effort would also help. “Election reform is always hard to do,” he said Thursday. “But second-term presidents may be the only people who can do something like this because they will never be on the ballot again.”
Yet since elections are governed by a patchwork of local laws, improvements to voting problems will most likely rise or fall on action in state legislatures or county governments rather than in Congress or recommendations by a presidential commission.
Several groups that study the voting system applauded the White House for highlighting the issue, but some critics expressed skepticism that improvements would be made simply because of a presidential commission.
“We have long lines at the polls every four years. It’s not new,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters. “Sending this to a commission is not a bold step.”
The president, who has sought to draw attention to voters waiting hours to cast ballots last fall, said that he created the commission “to improve the voting experience in America.” He first highlighted the issue on election night, inserting his concerns into his victory speech, and later in his Inaugural Address.