December 06, 2012

Election Reform on the Agenda for the 113th Congress

By Jeremy Miller

I VotedHow long did you have to wait in line to vote on Election Day?  Well, across the country millions of Americans were subjected to hellacious waits in order to cast their votes.  In southern Virginia, some stood in line for as long as seven hours.  Needless to say this is unacceptable, and some members of Congress want to do something about it.

To be sure, there are many reasons for the long lines.  A recent Pew Center on the States report cites confusion over voter registration; a dearth of ballots; not enough/malfunctioning voting machines; too few poll workers; long ballots; and fewer polling places.  Undoubtedly these problems resulted from a mixture of incompetence and political chicanery (accusations abound that some partisan election officials hoped the long lines would discourage voting).  Current voting rules and procedures differ from district to district, and the Constitution vests the states with authority over the “times, places, and manner” of holding federal elections.  But the Constitution states also “the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations.”  Some in Congress are intent on doing just that.

Several bills have already been introduced.  Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Lines Interfere with National Elections (LINE) Act that would require the U.S. Attorney General, in consultation with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), to issue new national standards by January 1, 2014 regarding the minimum number of voting machines, election workers, and other election resources necessary to conduct federal elections on Election Day and during early voting periods.  The legislation’s explicit aim is to prevent a waiting time of more than one hour at any polling place. Sen. Chis Coons (D-DE) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) have introduced the Fair, Accurate, Secure, and Timely Voting (FAST) Act, which would establish a competitive grant program for states designed to incentivize best practices and technology to expedite voting at the polls.  Finally, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) introduced the Streamlined and Improved Methods at Polling Locations and Early Voting (SIMPLE) Act, which is similar to the LINE Act in that it would require federal guidelines on early voting, reduce wait times, and require all states to have early voting for at least 15 days prior to Election Day.

All of these proposals have merit and deserve serious consideration in the upcoming 113th Congress.  In the 21st century, we are making do with a long-outdated 19th-century voting process, and the American public is rightfully fed up.  A recent MacArthur Foundation study found that 88% percent of Americans who voted in this year’s election support establishing national standards for voting, including the hours polls are open, who is eligible to vote, and the design of ballots.  We couldn’t agree more and will be pushing hard for election reform in the next Congress.  These kinds of reforms should be ripe for bipartisan cooperation – voters from both parties are impacted by the long lines, after all.  In a democracy, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier for people to vote. 

Still, expect to hear a litany of cockamamie claims about why such legislation would be detrimental to America by those who fear that increased voting will result in a decline of one party’s political power.

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