Will the Bauer-Ginsberg Election Reform Commission Improve Our Dismal Election System?

by - February 13, 2013

During tonight’s State of the Union speech, the President made the following remarks:

But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone.  We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home.  That includes our most fundamental right as citizens:  the right to vote.  When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals.  That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.  And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it.  We can fix this, and we will.  The American people demand it.  And so does our democracy.

Here the President has followed up on his “we can fix that” statement about long lines from his victory speech on election night and his reiteration of the point in his inauguration speech. The issue is now officially on the agenda.  The White House’s fact sheet on the new Presidential Commission on Election Administration tells us that two of the leading election lawyers in the country, Democrat Bob Bauer (Obama’s campaign lawyer) and Republican Ben Ginsberg (Romney’s campaign lawyer) will come together to lead a commission on ways to improve voting: especially in terms of long lines, the experience of military and overseas voters, and related issues (such as voting machines, polling places, and problems faced by voters with disabilities and those with limited English language proficiency).

What to make of this effort? Will it lead anywhere? Here are my initial thoughts.

1. Getting buy-in not just from the president and Democrats but from a leading Republican election lawyer such as Ginsberg is quite significant. Ginsberg is an adult who has never bought into the hyperbolic rhetoric by some on the Republican side about an epidemic of voter fraud requiring all kinds of steps to make it harder to vote.  Yet Ginsberg is not like Trevor Potter (McCain’s campaign lawyer), who is a campaign reformer and is regarded by some Republicans with suspicion.  Ginsberg is a strong conservative, very smart, and not likely to give away the store to Democrats.  His buy-in makes it more likely that other Republican leaders in this area will join in the work of the commission, and that what emerges really does get some bipartisan support.

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