One of the more memorable moments in President Obama’s State of the Union address this week was his introduction of an elderly woman sitting in the House gallery. The president said that Desiline Victor had to wait three hours last year to vote in North Miami. “Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line to support her,” Obama said. “[Because] Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read, ‘I Voted.’ But Obama’s plan to fix the problem — setting up a presidential commission — hasn’t gotten many cheers. Voting-rights advocates are lukewarm at best, while Republicans are dismissive. So far, there are few details about the new commission. Obama said it will be headed by two longtime election lawyers, “who, by the way, recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Gov. [Mitt] Romney’s campaign.”
That would be Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, respectively. Neither man is talking yet about their plans. But the White House says the panel will recommend ways that state and local election officials can reduce long lines and “improve the Election Day experience.”
The announcement disappointed Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States.
“We were hoping for bold action, not lip service,” she says.
MacNamara thinks the commission is just another way to kick the can down the road. “Long lines occur every four years. There is no real mystery as to why this happens,” she says. “And there are immediate things that can be done and were not called for.”
Those things include requiring states to offer online voter registration and more early voting, and to do a better job staffing and equipping polling sites.
Congressional Democrats have legislation that would do just that. But Republicans say it’s not up to the federal government to run elections.