Panel Recommends Easier Access to Voting

Sees better technology, early voting as solutions

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Carolyn Kaster / AP

From left: U.S. President Barack Obama, Robert Bauer, Vice President Joe Biden, and Benjamin Ginsberg and other members of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22, 2014.

A presidential commission on voting recommended easing access to the polls Wednesday, through increasing use of technology and early voting before Election Day.

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, a bipartisan 10-member group that has spent the last six months examining the problems voters face at the polls, also said that problems like long lines at polling stations, which left people waiting for hours in some states in 2012, could be fixed through “combination of planning and the efficient allocation of resources.” No voter, the commission said, should have to wait longer than 30 minutes to vote.

Members of the commission met Wednesday with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House. Elections are administered by states, so the potential for substantial reform in voting policy is limited without cooperation from Congress or the states—unlikely in the current political climate.

“Our aim was to transcend partisan divisions and view election administration as public administration that must heed the expressed interests and expectations of voters,” the commission co-chairs Robert Bauer, a lawyer for Obama’s campaigns, and Benjamin Ginsberg, a lawyer for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, said in a joint statement.

Obama issued an executive order forming the commission last year.

“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,” Obama said Wednesday.

The recommendations focus partly on the impact improved technology can have on the voting process, such as using electronic poll books, improving access to voter information on states’ websites for voters overseas and in the military, and easing the process of updating and replacing old voting equipment.

One key recommendation was that schools continue to serve as polling places. Some districts have expressed security concerns about that role in the wake of high profile school shootings, but the commission said schools remain ideal places to cast a ballot because they are accessible to people with disabilities and often located near voters’ homes.

“The closing of schools poses a real problem for finding adequate facilities for polling places,” the commission’s senior research director, Nathaniel Persily, said last month.

The commission also suggested better training for poll workers to help voters who speak limited English. And the commission said in its report that recommendations were kept broad to address problems faced by a wide swath of voters.

“Any solutions in this realm must be made with an eye toward addressing the problems faced by voters as a whole while also ensuring that the needs of these discrete populations are met,” the report said. “They should be adopted not only because they address problems broadly shared, but also because they address more severe challenges faced by particular populations.”