Do We Really Want to Make Elections Better?
In “stuff that matters” news, the Bauer-Ginsberg Commission on election administration issued its report today. Well, it’s not clear that the commission is actually important, but the topic certainly is. U.S. elections are poorly run, and getting worse.
Election law expert Rick Hasen discusses the report here. The good news? The bipartisan commission, appointed by the president, has produced enormous amounts of useful and usable information about how to run elections, such as increased early voting, online voter registration and better coordination between state motor vehicle departments and election administration offices to truly fulfill the promise of Motor Voter laws.
Any election administrator who wants to do a better job, and has the resources to do it, will be in much better shape armed with the commission’s best practices and an “Election Toolkit.”
The bad news? That’s about it. Barack Obama responded by repeating his goal, and the commission principle, that no one should have to wait more than 30 minutes to vote.But the commission, which had a very limited mandate, has not only produced nothing enforceable, it hasn’t really even recommended anything enforceable. Nor has it recommended new funding for elections.
Hasen sums it up:
Kudos to the Commissioners and staff for accomplishing much more than I thought could be accomplished given the limited charge. Given the charge, this is a tremendous accomplishment. If these changes could be implemented it would positively affect the voting experience of millions of voters. Unfortunately, the problems identified by the Commission, and those sidestepped by the Commission, will require much more than this Commission’s good work to be solved. It remains to be seen if we can get beyond partisan recriminations and actually fix what remains a broken U.S. election system. Much depends upon the persuasive powers of Commission members, the President, and others.
I remain a pessimist about this. To the extent that states want to make it easy for everyone to vote and are willing to devote the resources to achieve that, it’s great that they’ll now have a path to do so (see Heather Gerken’s optimistic take for how this could work). But I just don’t see “make it easy for everyone to vote” as a goal that most, or even many, states share.
I hope I’m wrong! To the extent that the problem is mainly one of information not previously available to well-intentioned, non-partisan election administrators, then Bauer-Ginsburg could certainly make a big difference. But to the extent the problem is one of partisan state governments who want to maintain high hurdles between (at least some) people and the franchise -- or to the extent that money is needed to implement change and election administration remains a low priority -- then change will be minimal.
Still, I strongly agree with Hasen that the people involved were excellent. And even modest improvements would be welcome. I just don’t see much hope for significant progress given the partisan environment. Voting should be easy for everyone. There are reasons it's not.