The Commissioners have had a very busy couple of weeks hosting and visiting important members of the election community and listening to ideas, priorities and the appropriate role of the EAC now that it is reconstituted. At our recent Next Steps roundtable, we solicited opinions from a range of stakeholders: local and state election administrators, officials, legislative representatives, vendors, technology advisors, the accessibility community, advocacy and interest groups, and commissioners from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA). The Co-Chairs of the PCEA kicked off our event with some encouraging, and, frankly, sobering, words on how the EAC is now positioned to follow up on the PCEA’s work. Bob Bauer set a very high standard for the EAC by saying, “The newly invigorated Election Assistance Commission will provide for a new beginning here in the United States about how to improve the voting experience for millions of voters.” Ben Ginsburg told us that he believes “the work the EAC does is tremendously important; the EAC will play a major role in finding solutions to impending crises in voting technology” in addition to its clearinghouse and research functions. Both Co-Chairs stressed that a bipartisan approach to election administration is critical. All the EAC Commissioners agree and we are committed to operating in a friendly, bipartisan manner.
Voting Blogs: PCEA Co-Chairs Call on New EAC to Take “Quick Action” on Voting Technology | Election Academy
Last week, I engaged in what my friend and colleague Rick Hasen called “irrational exuberance” regarding the confirmation of a 3-member quorum at the EAC. [I plead “giddy as charged.”] I did note that there was work to be done, however, and already the new commissioners are hearing about what they can and should do once they formally take office. PCEA co-chairs Ben Ginsberg and Bob Bauer have written letters to the new commissioners laying out some immediate short-term steps they can take to get the nation’s voting technology testing and certification system back up to speed. The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Matt Weil – himself a former EAC staffer – has a summary of those letters on the BPC blog:
In the 2012 election, Robert Bauer was President Obama’s campaign counsel and Benjamin Ginsberg was the top lawyer for Republican opponent Mitt Romney. Now they have joined forces to co-chair the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, studying the problems elections face. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity. Q: Long lines, unreliable voting machines, disputed ballots: Why don’t elections in the United States work better?
Ginsberg:There are 8,000 different jurisdictions that are responsible for putting on some part of our elections. It is a process largely fueled by volunteers. They don’t have adequate training in most cases. So uniformity among our elections because of the way our system has been for 200 years is proving pretty difficult.
Bauer:We don’t commit nearly the resources that we need to, to the election administration process. Our administrators, who are generally overlooked when things go well and harshly criticized when they don’t, by and large have to deal with very tight budgets in which the priority is never very high for the work they have to do.
Raising the profile of the District’s struggle to win voting rights in Congress to the international level could create some interesting geopolitical dynamics. Imagine Chinese President Xi Jinping denouncing D.C.’s disenfranchisement in Congress as a human rights violation. Picture Russian President Vladimir Putin lecturing the White House for denying voting representation to citizens in the nation’s capital. “I don’t want to encourage anybody to poke a stick in our eye in the United States, but the reality is, I think we have some vulnerability on that and there are groups that are eager to find some chink in the United States’ armor,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., during a recent symposium on congressional representation for D.C. residents hosted by the William & Mary Election Law Program. Davis believes that launching an international dialogue on the issue could be helpful in pressing it forward politically. As one of the staunchest allies the District has ever had in Congress, Davis repeatedly defended the city during his 14 years in Congress and pushed legislation to give the District a vote in the House.
President Obama said last month that no one should have to wait more than half an hour to vote. Now two Democratic senators are introducing a bill aimed at making that pledge a reality. The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Bill Nelson of Florida, is the first effort to act on the recommendations of a bipartisan presidential commission, unveiled last month. “In a democracy, you’re supposed to make it easier and less of hardship for people to vote, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” said Nelson in a statement sent out Wednesday evening.
The commission President Obama appointed last year to figure out how to fix long lines at the polls and other election problems has sought to steer clear of the many partisan land mines surrounding how Americans vote. The two co-chairmen of the panel continued to that navigation Wednesday as they presented their unanimous recommendations to the Senate Rules Committee. When asked by Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota whether some states were doing things intentionally to disenfranchise voters — like limiting early-voting days — commission co-chairman and Democratic election lawyer Bob Bauer responded diplomatically. First, he said the commission was struck by how much it had heard from both Democrats and Republicans, “once the lights were off and the doors were closed,” about their desire to improve the way elections are run. And then he told senators that any partisan plots to disenfranchise voters would be far less likely to succeed if states adopted some of the changes proposed by the bipartisan panel, like improving the accuracy of voter registration lists.
Editorials: The new conservative assault on early voting: More Republicans, fewer voters. | RickHasen/Slate
It is easy to dismiss the latest conservative rants against early voting as just one more way for Republicans to try to gain advantage over Democrats at the polls. But something much more troubling may also be at work: Some opponents of early voting are promoting the view that a smaller (and skewed) electorate is better for democracy. In the past few weeks, a flurry of conservatives have attacked early voting, from Eugene Kontorovich and John McGinnis in Politico to George Will in the Washington Post to J. Christian Adams in the Washington Times. The timing is no coincidence: The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which President Obama created to look at issues with long lines and other election problems, recently issued its much-anticipated report. The report is full of many sound suggestions for improving our elections, and one of the key recommendations is to expand early voting, either in person, through absentee ballots, or both. There’s good reason to follow the commission’s recommendation: Early voting takes pressure off administering the vote on Election Day. It helps avert long lines and aids election administrators in working out kinks. Voters like early voting because it lets them pick a convenient time to vote, when there are not work or child-care conflicts.
A voting report released Wednesday by a bipartisan presidential panel offers a frank rebuke to Republicans working to make voting harder—especially through cuts to early voting. And the GOP is already working to limit the report’s impact. “The administration of elections is inherently a state function so I do not believe that new one-size-fits-all Washington mandates would be of assistance.” Rep. Candice Miller, a former Michigan secretary of state and the House GOP’s point person on voting issues, said in a statement. The Republican National Lawyers Association, a group of GOP election lawyers that has played a key role in advancing voting restrictions, echoed Miller’s view. The report has mostly been applauded by voting rights groups and those looking to expand access to the ballot. “The commission’s recommendations are a significant step forward,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, in a statement.
Editorials: Commission Wants to Make Voting More Like Disneyland and Less Like the DMV | Ben Jacobs/The Daily Beast
If a presidential commission has its way, the traditional Election Day is dead. The “traditional election day model 12 hours from x in morning to x at night is not feasible,” Bob Bauer, one of two co-chairs of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, said in a panel at George Washington University School of Law on Wednesday, just hours after presenting the commission’s report to President Obama. The commission–popularly known as the Bauer-Ginsberg Commission after its two chairs, Bauer, a top Democratic lawyer, and Ben Ginsberg, the leading Republican election litigator—delivered its recommendations unanimously in a report commissioned in the aftermath of numerous reports of long lines and delays during the 2012 election. The commission dodged issues normally associated with partisan battles, such as voter ID and the Voting Rights Act. Instead it focused on the nuts and bolts of how to get voters in and out of their polling places quickly and efficiently, setting a standard of a half-hour as the longest anyone should wait to vote.
Responding to frustratingly long lines in the last national election, a presidential commission on Wednesday encouraged expansion of early voting and said no American should have to wait more than half an hour to cast a ballot. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration was presenting President Barack Obama with a list of recommendations to reduce the wait and make voting more efficient. The commission warned of an “impending crisis in voting technology” as machines across the country purchased after the 2000 election recount wear out with no federal funds on the horizon to replace them. “We could have even more problems in the future if we don’t act now,” Obama said after receiving their 112-page report in the White House’s Roosevelt Room. But fixing the problems will be easier said than done, since no federal commission can force changes to balloting run by about 8,000 different jurisdictions. Funds for upgrades are scarce. Not only that, there have been sharp differences in recent years between the parties on what approach to employ. Fights over voting process can — and sometimes have — been as partisan and bitter as those associated with the redrawing of political boundary lines.
President Barack Obama said on Thursday he expects a blue-ribbon panel to soon propose reforms that both parties can back to address concerns over the long waiting times some American voters experienced at the polls in 2012. “Early next year, we’re going to put forward what we know will be a bipartisan effort or a bipartisan proposal to encourage people to vote,” he said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” “You can’t say you take pride in American democracy, American constitutionalism, American exceptionalism, and then you’re doing everything you can to make it harder for people to vote as opposed to easier for people to vote.”
Top officials from past presidential campaigns have quietly formed a group to push for major changes in the general election debates, with recommendations expected by late spring. The working group is questioning the debates’ format, moderator-selection process and location: Might a TV studio make more sense than a college town? Members said a major goal is to make more allowance for changing technology and the rise of social media. A likely recommendation is an earlier start for the debates, in response to the increase in absentee voting. Members include the longtime lead debate negotiator for each party: Bob Bauer for Democratic nominees and Ben Ginsberg for the Republicans. So the Annenberg Working Group on Presidential General Election Debates could have a profound effect on the signature fall events of the race for the White House. The group’s co-chairs were top debate-prep advisers to each of the 2012 nominees: Anita Dunn for President Obama, and Beth Myers for Mitt Romney.
Voting Blogs: Tech, Training, and Tricks: Why We Should Expect a Good Deal More than “Nothing” from the President’s Commission | Heather Gerken/Election Law Blog
Jonathan Bernstein has insisted that we should “expect nothing” from the president’s electoral administration commission, headed by Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg. It’s not a bad prediction for any pundit, because “nothing” is pretty much what we’ve been getting out of Washington for a good long while. Moreover, I wasn’t sure that anyone was more cynical than I am about the possibility of election reform, so it’s nice to have company. As I’ve written elsewhere, getting “from here to there” with election reform is incredibly difficult in the current political climate. Nonetheless, I think that Bernstein is wrong and that it’s worth saying why. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I have occasionally been asked by the commission to provide technical expertise and, like most of the people in my field, know and respect both Bauer and Ginsberg). Your view of the commission will depend on what you think it’s realistic to expect on the reform front. Bernstein, much to his credit, candidly admits that he wasn’t sure what President Obama should have done in the wake of the 2012 election. He suggests that Obama should have pushed for legislation in the hope of slipping it into an omnibus bill, although he ruefully admits it “probably would have died.” (On that prediction, I’d just omit the “probably.”) Or perhaps, says Bernstein, Obama should have pushed to draft “model legislation” for the states. (This doesn’t strike me as any more likely to succeed; it’s hard to see why state legislators will pass meaningful reform given that they are no less self-interested than members of Congress.) Bernstein nonetheless thinks that a dead bill that squeaked through the Senate or model legislation for the states will do more to reform our system than the president’s commission will.
Ellen Kaplan delivered a blunt message Wednesday to members of a presidential blue-ribbon panel on election reform. The 2012 vote in Philadelphia was a “national embarrassment” spoiled by massive confusion, partisanship, and mismanagement, said Kaplan, policy director of the watchdog group Committee of Seventy. She pointed to numbers such as the 26,986 provisional ballots cast, more than 12,000 of them by registered voters who should have been allowed to use voting machines, and almost 100 Republican poll inspectors who “were not permitted to sit” by their Democratic counterparts and had to get court orders. “Perhaps,” she added, in what could be a touch of overstatement, “the worst-run election in the city’s history.”
National: Presidential commission probes Florida voting lines, which study shows were longest for Hispanics | Miami Herald
Hispanic voters waited longer at the polls last November than any other ethnic group, a statewide study has concluded, with black voters also experiencing longer delays than whites. The study, submitted Friday in Coral Gables to a bipartisan election reform commission created by President Barack Obama, found that precincts with a greater proportion of Hispanic voters closed later on Nov. 6 than precincts with predominantly white ones. In some cases, blacks also had longer waits than whites. The 10-member Presidential Commission on Election Administration met at a day-long session at the University of Miami to hear from Florida elections supervisors, political science professors and the public about how the government can help avoid delays at the polls. “Everyone we’ve talked to from all levels, from all disciplines, says you can’t have a one-size-fit-all solution,” said Ben Ginsberg, who co-chairs the commission with Bob Bauer. Both are Washington D.C.-based elections attorneys with extensive experience advising presidential candidates and political parties.
A White House commission tasked with making voting improvements after lengthy wait times were reported in the 2012 election is hitting the road. The president’s Commission on Election Administration, which met for the first time on Friday, announced it will hold upcoming hearings in four states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio. Co-chair Bob Bauer, President Barack Obama’s former counsel, said they will hold “a public meetings process around the country that enables us to hear from election officials, from experts and from citizens in affected communities about the voting experience and their perspective on the issues they should be covering.” Bauer and co-chair Ben Ginsberg, former counsel for Mitt Romney, invited election experts and members of the public to participate. “Please help us to ferret out the information we need,” Bauer said. Hearing specifics are still slim. Known so far: They are scheduled for June 28 at the University of Miami, Aug. 8 in Denver, Sept. 4 in Philadelphia and Sept. 20 somewhere in Ohio.
A group of Democratic senators is urging President Obama’s election commission to take “strong steps” to ensure that voters are no longer forced to wait hours to cast their ballots, as occurred last November in some areas of the country. “The existence of long lines…defective voting machines, and the lack of staff and adequate resources at polling locations created inexcusable conditions for voters,” Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Chris Coons of Delaware, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Bill Nelson of Florida said in a letter to the commission’s chairmen sent Tuesday. “Lines created by these conditions are forcing citizens to decide between casting their ballot or caring for a sick child, or earning a paycheck to feed their families. This is a choice that no citizen should have to face.”
More than six months after declaring on election night that “we’ve got to fix” long lines at the polls that forced some voters to wait up to eight hours, President Obama has announced the members of his commission on election administration. The list includes a mix of business executives, public officials, and election administrators, but no dedicated voting-rights advocates. Obama had previously revealed that Washington super-lawyers Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, a Democrat and Republican respectively, would chair the panel. Obama also announced that Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Columbia Law School who has generally been skeptical of voting restrictions aimed at combating fraud, will be the commission’s senior research director. And the commission unveiled a new website,supportthevoter.gov.
We know little about President Barack Obama’s new Commission on Election Administration except for its structure, as outlined in the executive order that explains its task is to improve voting in America, and the names of its two appointed co-chairs: Obama’s former counsel Bob Bauer and Republican attorney Ben Ginsberg, who worked for Mitt Romney. But while it has yet to explain its methodology or get together a full staff (the executive order directs that no more than nine members are to be appointed) the commission—an idea born on election night 2012 when Obama declared we “have to fix” long lines at the polls—is about to get to work. Steve Croley, deputy White House counsel, told Yahoo News the White House is gearing up to announce the committee’s full roster next month and set the group to work. The committee, he said, will be a mix of individuals including “several people who basically run elections for a living” at the state, county or local levels, in addition to those working on the private side. No other details were offered about commissioners.
In recent years, the issue of voting rights has exploded into a high-octane partisan battle, with Republicans backing laws restricting access to the ballot, Democrats loudly crying foul, and no resolution in sight. But a new presidential panel aimed at fixing problems in the U.S. voting system could offer a way around the stalemate. Following up on an Election Night pledge to fix the long lines that kept some voters waiting over seven hours to cast a ballot, President Obama last week formally created the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, and gave it a broad mandate to improve the voting experience. “When any Americans—no matter where they live or what their party—are denied that right [to vote] simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals,” Obama said in his State of the Union address.
President Obama has established a new bipartisan commission on election administration, something he promised to do in his Feb. 12 State of the Union address. He signed an executive order Thursday making it official. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration is being headed by two longtime Washington attorneys, Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg. Bauer was general counsel to the president’s re-election campaign and is also Obama’s former White House counsel. Ginsberg was national counsel to Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and also to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns.
President Obama signed an executive order Thursday creating the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, a panel tasked with formulating suggestions on how to cut down on long lines to vote and other problems that plagued voters in 2012. Obama announced plans to launch the effort — co-chaired by lawyers Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg who represented the Obama and Romney campaigns, respectively, during the 2012 election — during his State of the Union address. But the White House hadn’t offered details on how the commission would work until Thursday. The order directs the nine-member panel to produce a report for Obama within six months of its first public meeting that will “identify best practices and otherwise make recommendations to promote the efficient administration of elections in order to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots without undue delay, and to improve the experience of voters facing other obstacles in casting their ballots, such as members of the military, overseas voters, voters with disabilities, and voters with limited English proficiency.”
President Obama created a special commission Thursday designed to find ways to make voting easier. The bipartisan commission will report to the president later this year with proposals on how state and local officials can “shorten lines and promote the efficient conduct of elections,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. “That report is intended to serve as a best practices guide for state and local election officials to improve voter’s experience at the polls under their existing election laws,” Earnest said. Obama authorized the commission by signing an executive order Thursday. The order said members will examine such challenges as processing overseas and military ballots, and voters who have disabilities or “limited English proficiency.”
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.
Since November, President Obama has been promising to do something about extremely long voting lines and other shameful Election Day lapses. Last week, he began to make good on his pledge, unveiling “a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America,” headed by Bob Bauer and Benjamin Ginsburg, the lawyers for Mr. Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaigns, respectively. The Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson and Felicia Sonmez report that critics are already attacking the idea. Conservatives question why the federal government needs to get more involved with voting. Voting-rights activists wonder why the president needs a commission when he could champion any of the sensible reform proposals already sitting in Congress. But the commission is a good idea, for at least two reasons.
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.
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.”
Voting Blogs: Thoughts on the New Presidential Commission on Election Administration | Election Academy
The announcement last night of a new Presidential Commission on Election Administration brings to an end the speculation about President Obama’s plans to act on his observation that “we need to fix” problems with the nation’s election system. In one way, the decision to appoint a new Commission is a little puzzling, given the existence of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission; however, given the political limbo facing the EAC, the Administration may have decided that bypassing the appointment process via executive order was a way to get started on the process sooner than later. The choices to co-chair the Commission are very encouraging. Ben Ginsberg and Bob Bauer, while fierce advocates for their parties’ interests, have a long history of cooperation with one another on projects in this field, including attempts to help the nation’s judges bring some order to the often-messy process of election litigation. Hopefully, this will encourage policymakers on both sides of the aisle to look past what Election Law Blog’s Rick Hasen calls “the voting wars” and identify some solutions that can garner bipartisan support.
Voting problems are nothing new. But as President Barack Obama showed Tuesday night, so are proposed solutions. In announcing his plan to create a new commission to “fix” long voting lines, Obama was mirroring similar efforts that followed the razor-thin — and infamously controversial — 2000 election. But unlike that response – Congress created the Election Assistance Commission that over the next decade doled out more than $3.2 billion to help states buy voting equipment, recruit poll workers and improve record keeping – the Obama White House has yet to say much about who’ll be named to the new commission or what they’ll be asked to do. Meanwhile, the 2002 commission is foundering, virtually inactive and unfunded. “There is nothing they are doing that is sufficient enough to justify their existence,” said U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., a longtime critic. “It’s the perfect example of what [former president] Ronald Reagan said — that the closest thing to eternal life on this Earth was a government program.” That may leave Florida voters, tens of thousands of whom waited up to seven hours to vote on Nov. 6, waiting to see if the lines they faced will become a serious federal issue or just more political fodder. At this point, it seems far more likely that the first response will come from the Florida Legislature.
Upset by the long lines encountered by thousands of voters in November, President Obama is creating a bipartisan panel to look into the problem and propose solutions. “When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals,” Obama planned to say in his State of the Union address. “We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.” Obama’s response represents less than some voting rights groups had sought. But they noted it could give his eventual recommendations bipartisan cover rather than cast them as proposals designed to help Democrats at the polls.