Voting Made Easier: Recommendations

Photograph by Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg

Voters cast their ballots at a makeshift polling location at PS52 in the Midland Beach neighborhood of the Staten Island borough of New York on Nov. 6, 2012.

Voting should be easier.

It’s not difficult to make that happen.

That, essentially, is the conclusion of a presidential commission that was asked to investigate the long lines at polling places that have complicated voting in many places in recent years and other complaints.

In the process, voter identification has become a political term —  a means of ensuring that only those qualified vote, in the eyes of Republicans seeking reforms, or a means of suppressing the minority vote, in the eyes of Democrats fighting those measures.

The presidential commission that reported its findings today includes Bob Bauer, a former general counsel to President Barack Obama, and Ben Ginsberg, a Republican attorney who went to Florida in 2000 to fight George W. Bush’s challenge of the presidential election that ended in a disputed 537-vote margin for Bush.

“The commission’s report marks a significant advance in the way we think about voting,” says Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU. “Too often voting issues have been marked by partisan discord.  The commission makes clear that there are achievable, bipartisan reforms that can be implemented now to transform voting in America.  Most importantly, it recognizes that we can’t fix long lines until we first fix our outdated voter registration system.”

Their recommendations:

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;
  • To usher in this needed next generation of equipment, reforming the standards and certification process to allow innovation and the adoption of widely available and significantly less expensive off-the-shelf technologies and “software-only” solutions;
  • Improving the ability of military and overseas voters to access ballots and other voting materials through the states’ websites;
  • The increased use of electronic pollbooks for greater accuracy and efficiency;
  • 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; and
  • Collecting election data on a uniform basis to enable enhanced analysis to improve the voter experience.

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