POLITICS: PennAve

Obama's election commission aims to reduce voting headaches

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Politics,White House,Barack Obama,Voter Registration,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Voter ID Laws,Elections

No voter should have to stand in line for more than 30 minutes -- that's the goal of President Obama's Presidential Commission on Election Administration, created to help problems that have hampered Americans' experience at the polls in recent years.

Obama announced the bipartisan commission during last year's State of the Union address, and ahead of this year's agenda-setting speech on Jan. 28, met with its members Wednesday to discuss their findings and how best to implement them.

Reports during the 2012 election said many voters faced long lines and broken or older equipment at the polls.

“I think all of us share the belief that, regardless of party affiliation, that our democracy demands that our citizens can participate in a smooth and effective way,” the president told reporters before meeting with the commission. “I called on Congress to work with us, but I also thought that it was important for us to have a bipartisan, independent panel that could actually dig into the facts and try to determine what can we do to improve this situation.”

Obama thanked the commission co-chairmen -- Robert Bauer, counsel to both of his presidential campaigns, and Benjamin Ginsberg, counsel to Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns -- and said the pair had a “largely thankless job.”

“They have now, working with the rest of this commission, put together an outstanding series of recommendations with an important goal, which is that no American should have to wait more than half an hour to vote,” said Obama. “And they should know they should be confident that their vote is being properly counted and is secure.”

The president praised the panel’s findings as “common sense” proposals — “ones that can be embraced by all of us.”

Obama, though, acknowledged that because local jurisdictions are responsible for running elections, implementing the reforms would be “complicated.”

“A lot of the commission recommendations are directed not simply to Congress or the federal government, but rather to the state and local jurisdictions who are largely responsible for our elections,” said the president.

“We intend to publicize this and to then reach out to stakeholders all across the country to make sure that we can implement this, in part because one of the troubling aspects of the work that they did was hearing from local officials indicating that we could have even more problems in the future if we don’t act now,” he added.

In a joint statement unveiling their report, Bauer and Ginsberg said their aim was “to transcend partisan divisions and view election administration as public administration that must heed the expressed interests and expectations of voters.”

“The focus that we and our eight colleagues on the commission brought to the report is recognition of the issues and trends in election administration judged from the standpoint of voter expectation and the ways those expectations can and should be met,” they added.

After studying the issue for six months, hearing testimony from around the country and evaluating a survey of thousands of state and local election administrators, the commission released its report Wednesday ahead of the meeting with Obama. The report can be viewed on the commission's website.

The report recommends a variety of online tools and steps to help make the voting experience more efficient and flexible, including:

-- An expansion of online voter registration by the states to enhance both accuracy of the voter rolls and efficiency;

-- Having all states update and exchange their voter registration lists to create the most accurate lists possible to increase registration rates, reduce costs, and protect against fraud;

-- The expansion of voting before Election Day, recognizing that the majority of states now provide either mail balloting or in-person early voting and that voters are increasingly seeking these options;

-- The increased use of schools as polling places, since they are the best-equipped facilities in most jurisdictions, with security concerns met by scheduling an in-service training day for students and teachers on Election Day;

-- Recognizing and addressing the impending crisis in voting technology as machines bought 10 years ago with post-2000 federal funds wear out and require replacement with no federal appropriations on the horizon;

-- Improving the ability of military and overseas voters to access ballots and other voting materials through the states’ websites;

-- Assuring that polling places are accessible to all voters, are located close to where voters live and are designed to function smoothly;

-- Increasing and enhancing training and recruitment of poll workers, in the recognition that volunteer poll workers are voters’ primary source of contact during the actual voting process;

-- Having jurisdictions form advisory groups to address the needs of voters with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency.

This story was published at 10:45 a.m. and has been updated.

Assistant Managing Editor Meghashyam Mali contributed.

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