The president has named the members of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration and tasked them with reporting back within six months of their first meeting, scheduled for June. The unfortunate fact is that the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is already tasked to do what the commission is being asked to do, and we would do better to focus our limited resources and attention to such matters on making the EAC a serious professional body that focuses on the many and evolving challenges of election administration in 21st-century America. The other fact that seems to elude most is the sheer complexity of election administration. As a former member of Brazil’s electoral tribunal has put it, “There is no function of the modern state, short of going to war, that is as complex as election administration.”
If the commission takes its task seriously, it is unlikely to complete its work in six months. When Canada faced increasing questioning of its democracy and election administration in the late 1980s, the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Political Financing took three years to research a plethora of issues, held public hearings across the country and eventually issued more than 30 volumes of research, findings, and recommendations.
The U.S. has witnessed its own efforts to encourage needed electoral reform — most recently, the Commission on Federal Election Reform (the “Carter-Baker Commission”) — but continues to give short shrift to the issue. As former President Carter and former Secretary of State Baker state in the Commission’s report, “Many Americans thought that one report — the Carter-Ford Commission  — and one law — the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) — would be enough to fix the system. It isn’t.” What is needed is an ongoing effort to ensure that America has the best elections possible, rather than settling for what Bob Pastor recently concluded were third best in North America — out of three.