Presidential Commission Recommends Expanding Early Voting, Online Voter Registration

Report comes a year after President Obama vowed to address chronic voting problems.

Student Troy Simon (C) and US first lady Michelle Obama (R) listens while US President Barack Obama speaks during an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House January 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. The White House held the event to encourage public and private groups to help expand access to higher education in the United States. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
Jan. 22, 2014, 5:48 a.m.

A year after Pres­id­ent Obama’s pledge to ad­dress vot­ing prob­lems, a com­mis­sion he es­tab­lished re­com­mends ex­pand­ing early vot­ing and on­line voter re­gis­tra­tion to im­prove ef­fi­ciency at polls na­tion­wide.

The 2012 elec­tion was char­ac­ter­ized by stor­ies of voters wait­ing for hours to cast bal­lots at some polls in battle­ground states. The com­mis­sion’s un­an­im­ous con­clu­sion is that “prob­lems that hinder the ef­fi­cient ad­min­is­tra­tion of elec­tions are both iden­ti­fi­able and solv­able,” and that no voter should have to wait more than 30 minutes to cast a bal­lot.

The com­mis­sion also re­com­men­ded jur­is­dic­tions form ad­vis­ory groups to ad­dress the needs of dis­abled or voters with lim­ited Eng­lish pro­fi­ciency; ad­dress the “im­pend­ing crisis in vot­ing tech­no­logy,” as no fed­er­al dol­lars are set aside to up­date 10-year-old vot­ing ma­chines; and im­prove the re­cruit­ment and train­ing of poll work­ers.

Obama es­tab­lished the com­mis­sion in March through an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der, mak­ing good on a prom­ise in his State of the Uni­on ad­dress to im­prove the ac­cess to vot­ing and ef­fi­ciency at the polls. Dur­ing his speech, he high­lighted 102-year-old De­sil­ine Vic­tor of North Miami, who waited for hours to vote at her polling place. Flor­ida, which ex­per­i­enced the longest-av­er­age wait time, ac­cord­ing to the com­mis­sion, had re­duced its num­ber of early-vot­ing days from 14 to eight.

“When any Amer­ic­an — no mat­ter where they live or what their party — are denied that right be­cause they can’t wait for five or six or sev­en hours just to cast their bal­lot, we are be­tray­ing our ideals,” Obama said in his 2013 ad­dress.

Vot­ing rights have moved to the fore since then. In June, the Su­preme Court struck down a key pro­vi­sion of the Vot­ing Rights Act. A bi­par­tis­an amend­ment in­tro­duced last week would re­vive Justice De­part­ment over­sight of vot­ing in states that have had more than four vot­ing-rights vi­ol­a­tions with­in the last 15 years. If ap­proved, Geor­gia, Louisi­ana, Mis­sis­sippi, and Texas would have to seek Justice De­part­ment pre­clear­ance be­fore mak­ing changes to vot­ing laws.

Co­chairs of the 10-mem­ber, non­par­tis­an com­mis­sion are the coun­sels to Pres­id­ent Obama’s and Mitt Rom­ney’s 2008 and 2012 cam­paigns, Robert Bauer and Ben­jamin Gins­berg, re­spect­ively.

“Our aim was to tran­scend par­tis­an di­vi­sions and view elec­tion ad­min­is­tra­tion as pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion that must heed the ex­pressed in­terests and ex­pect­a­tions of voters,” Bauer and Gins­berg said in a joint state­ment. The com­mis­sion is set to dis­solve 30 days after its re­port is is­sued.

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