The 2012 presidential election was about as bad as it gets for voting, in too many states. It is unfathomable, not to mention deeply embarrassing, that the world’s most modern democracy would have voters standing in line for hours on end to exercise this fundamental franchise. Television images of the lines in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida (among other states) were shown around the world. While the problems causing the long voting lines were not uniform, more often than not the situation was traceable to calculated efforts by Republican officials who deliberately changed (or administered) the law to make it difficult for predominately Democratic voters, hoping to discourage their voting. The good news is that it did not work. Because the problem was well-publicized, inconvenienced Democrats defied the efforts to disenfranchise them, and waited for however long was required to cast their ballot. President Obama commented on the lines and problems on Election Night; he mentioned them again in his Inaugural Address; and most recently, they also played a role in his State of the Union speech, poignantly highlighting the plight of Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old Florida woman seated in the Galley of the House of Representatives’ chamber during the speech, as a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama. The President explained that Ms. Victor had been forced to stand in line for three hours at her local library in North Miami to cast her ballot. Most everyone in the Chamber literally gasped at the awful situation, but that doesn’t mean Republicans will do anything to solve it.
Frankly, I was somewhat disappointed at the President’s suggested solution to this troubling problem. It is well understood that the situation is largely the fault of state and local Republicans, employing this tactic to game the system because their policies and candidates are increasingly unpopular. President Obama’s proposal is iffy at best, although I admit that second-guessing this able politician in the White House is risky.
Obama’s State of the Union Voting Proposal
“When Americans—no matter where they live or what their party—are denied the right [to vote] simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals,” the President declared during his State of the Union address. To deal with the situation, he reported: “I am announcing a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.” It was not a big applause line in the speech.
The President said his voting commission would be headed by two well-known Washington lawyers, both of whom are conspicuously aware of the problems: Bob Bauer, President Obama’s former White House counsel (representing a Democratic point of view), and Ben Ginsberg, Mitt Romney’s campaign counsel (representing the GOP point of view). It is difficult to believe that either man was looking for such an assignment, but when a president makes such a request, it is something of a command performance. Nor is it likely, thankfully, that either man is taking on the assignment to checkmate the other.
So far, the White House has added little about what the President has requested that the commission do, and how quickly he would like to see it done. Regardless, on the surface, this is a rather thin proposal for addressing a serious national political problem, a situation that screams for leadership from the Democratic president. (For example, the President might have announced that the Administration is forming federal grand juries in every state that had restricted voter activity to look into the problem.) But Barack Obama is no fool, and I hope that his underwhelming-appearing non-solution is, in fact, a shrewd play on his part—maybe even a ploy to avoid a minefield of potential political problems by maneuvering Republicans to resolve these undemocratic problems.