We don’t need another election commission, we need legislative action

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

When Congress wants to kick the can down the road and do nothing, it forms a commission to talk it to death while the media loses interest. Unfortunately, this is what President Obama proposed to do in his SOTU Address last night with our broken elections system he had promised that "we need to fix that." His choice of chairmen to lead this commission, in particular Ben Ginsburg, is unacceptable.

Ari Berman writes Obama Appoints a Controversial GOP Lawyer to His Voting Commission:

President Obama embraced the cause of voting rights in his State of the
Union speech, which he called “our most fundamental right as citizens,”
and spotlighted 102-year-old Desiline Victor,
a naturalized Haitian immigrant from Miami who waited three hours—and
had to make two trips—to cast a ballot. He also proposed a new voting commission headed by lawyers from the Obama and Romney campaigns.

* * *

Unfortunately, Obama’s solution was less than inspiring. Another
election commission is a pretty tepid response to the magnitude of the
voting problems we face. And Romney campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg is a puzzling choice to be its co-chair.

For over two decades, Ginsberg has been a top lawyer for the
Republican Party—the same party, you may recall, that has led the effort
to restrict voting rights
of late. Ginsberg helped lead the 2000 recount effort for George W.
Bush. He was forced to resign from the Bush campaign in 2004 after it
was revealed that he was also advising the vile Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In 2006, Ginsberg said,
“Just like really with the Voting Rights Act, Republicans have some
fundamental philosophical difficulties with the whole notion of Equal
Protection.” And in 2012, he was counsel to the Romney campaign when it
absurdly claimed that the Obama campaign was trying to suppress military voters
by pushing for early voting for all Ohioans. Does that sound like the
kind of guy you want leading a “non-partisan” voting commission?

More than likely, this commission will go nowhere. After all,
commissions in Washington tend to be where good ideas go to die
.
Following the 2000 election, the Help America Vote Act created the
Election Assistance Commission to help states run their elections. It’s
become the “zombie voting commission,” according to The Washington Post;
it has no commissioners, executive director or general counsel, and
hasn’t met publicly since 2011. Republicans have repeatedly blocked the
appointment of new commissioners and tried to abolish the agency;
Democrats have done little to resurrect it.

Berman suggests that Congress first attempt to resurrect its HAVA election commission. I would argue rather that we bury it. We don't need another commission to study what needs to be done, we have studied it to death. We know what works and needs to be done, and there are a half-dozen bills already introduced in this Congress that would dramatically remedy many of the problems. It is time for Congress to do its job — what a novel idea.

Berman reports that Voting rights groups appear split on the voting commission:

The Brennan Center for Justice called it "an important step, focusing on improving the experience of voters."

But the normally mild-mannered League of Women Voters
sharply criticized the idea: "we were surprised and disappointed that
the President did not suggest bold action to ensure that every American
citizen can exercise the right to vote. Setting up a commission is not a
bold step; it is business as usual. The President could have done much
better by pointing to real solutions like that in legislation already
introduced on Capitol Hill to require early voting, set limits on
waiting times, provide for portable voter registration and set up secure
online voter registration.”

For another view, Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog seems to think that only modest proposals such as this commission have any chance in this Congress. That is setting the bar extremely low. Will the Bauer-Ginsberg Election Reform Commission Improve Our Dismal Election System?

So to sum up: this is good news, and a step forward.  But the goals of
the Commission are modest, and if all that is produced is a list of best
practices, it may have little practical effect on fixing our broken
election system. It will take a lot more.

Reminder: The debate over the constitutionality of Voting Rights Act Section 5 preclearance will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder on February 27. Should the Court strike down Section 5, it is going to change the entire dynamic of the discussion of voting rights and legislation in Congress.

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