A range of solutions on voting issues

The Washington PostJanuary 26, 2014 

The president’s bipartisan panel on voting reform has released a lengthy report offering a range of solutions to the long lines and registration snafus that plague U.S. elections. The key recommendations are improved voter registration through online registration and interstate exchange of voter lists to ensure accuracy and speed the process; the expansion of early voting; and improved voting technology.

The report unabashedly identifies voting difficulties as a national problem that requires a national solution. “We view the recommendations as broad-based solutions to common problems evident on a national scale,” it says. “The recommendations in this report are targeted at common problems shared by all or most jurisdictions. For the most part, they are of a size that should fit all.”

Indeed, the panel recommends creating a national standard: “No citizen should have to wait more than 30 minutes to vote.”

“Some had eschewed national solutions, or any kinds of efforts to fix these problems, by suggesting they’re so particular and local that they can’t be solved with national policy,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “This sets a national standard for judging our election performance against. Here is a bipartisan group ... strongly putting their thumb on the scale for national solutions.”

The panel’s members include leading elections lawyers from the 2012 Obama and Romney campaigns, Bob Bauer and Benjamin Ginsberg.

The report suggests making a top goal of improving voters’ experience. That raises the question: Do both parties want to achieve this? As Jeffrey Toobin notes, early voting and improved voter registration are both top Democratic goals.

But the debate over voting reform should be able to get past partisan arguments. This report’s identification of national problems – and its prescriptions – go far beyond many of the disputes we’ve seen over voter ID laws.

Toobin suggests the proposals “will test Republicans. If, as many Democrats believe, they simply want to reduce turnout because they have a tendency to win low-turnout elections and lose high-turnout contests, Republicans can ignore or nitpick the recommendations, despite Ginsberg’s impeccable partisan credentials. Or the commission’s work could serve as a model of bipartisan cooperation, with the two sides putting aside their differences in the interest of setting up fairer fights in the future.”

Indeed. As Ari Berman recently wrote on TheNation.com: “Members of Congress face a choice: Do you want to make it easier or harder for people to vote? The question, and answer, is really that simple.”

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