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Should Election Reform Be at the Federal or State Level?

Congress ready to move forward with presidential commission's recommendations from 2012 election to make voting easier.

by
Bill Straub

Bio

March 12, 2014 - 4:54 pm

WASHINGTON – Congress is stepping up efforts to make the nation’s elections system more efficient and less time-consuming but at least one lawmaker maintains the job can best be handled by the individual states.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), ranking member on the Senate Committee on Rules & Administration, acknowledged during a hearing on election reform Wednesday that some states are experiencing problems when turnout is high.

But Roberts said he concurs with a finding of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration that the matter is best addressed by officials outside of Washington.

“The commission did not call for federal legislation,” Roberts said, adding that solutions “must be adopted by and tailored to the needs of the local community.”

While perhaps well-intentioned, Roberts said, federal intervention “could make matters worse rather than better.”

Roberts’ voice was a lonely one at the hearing conducted to consider two legislative proposals – the Lines Interfere with National Elections (LINE) Act, intended to help implement a commission recommendation that no voter should wait in line for more than 30 minutes to cast a ballot, and the Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act, which would create a competitive grant program to encourage states to aggressively pursue election reform.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the committee chairman, expressed support for both measures, asserting that “running an election is not an easy job, but because it is so important to our democracy we aspire to perfection.”

“One of the most important things we can do is to ensure that the way we administer elections keeps up with the times,” Schumer said. “Updating the election infrastructure of our democracy is critical to ensuring all eligible Americans are able to vote.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), sponsor of the LINE Act, told committee members that during the 2012 election some voters spent as many as eight hours in line attempting to cast their ballots. Some gave up the effort before their opportunity arrived, thus relinquishing their franchise. In some instances an eight-hour wait was unheard of.

Boxer cited the case of Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Florida resident who had to wait three hours to vote.

“She almost turned 103 waiting in line,” she said.

Boxer said her legislation would require states where voters experienced long lines in the 2012 election to develop plans to minimize waits at the polls.

“The right to vote is the essence of our democracy, the gift our founders gave our citizens,” Boxer said. “But when you make people wait in line for hours –when you force them to choose between voting or caring for a sick child, or going through severe pain as they wait or risking their jobs as they wait – their right to participate in our democracy is fundamentally denied.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), said his proposal, the FAST Act, would reward states that improve elections by making voting faster and more accessible to all citizens.

“The legislation incentivizes states to put forward their best efforts to improve elections,” Coons said. “As a competitive grant program, the best proposals with the greatest impact are rewarded with the seed money to make it happen.”

Cons said the 2012 election was “a wake-up call.”

“Tens of thousands of Americans, including Republicans and Democrats in both ‘red states’ and ‘blue states’ saw their fundamental right to vote for the candidate of their choice eroded by exceptionally long lines and confusing procedures in well over a dozen states,” Coons said.

The 2012 election witnessed errors on voter rolls in Ohio, delays in counting ballots in Arizona and long lines in Florida, Virginia and elsewhere.

In Colorado, Coons noted, voters said they checked the box on the touchscreen panel to vote for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney “but the machine kept switching their pick to President Obama.” Pennsylvania voters reported the same problem – only in reverse.

“This is unacceptable,” Coons said. “Voting is the ultimate civil right in our free society and we should treat it accordingly.”

Roberts made it clear that he also is “opposed to long lines and people waiting.”

“I just think we can settle it better in Tallahassee,” he said.

Some states already have taken steps to address shortcomings in the election system. Florida recently extended the early voting period – reversing an earlier law that had shortened it — and simplified ballots to reduce the waiting time to vote.

The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration released a 70-page report in January that concluded local election officials across the country should expand early voting, allow online registration and do a better job enforcing federal election laws.

Schumer said he intends to file legislation to implement the commission’s findings.

Washington freelancer Bill Straub is former White House correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
States, States, States, and States. The federal mess has no place anywhere near this as has been proven by the malfeasance of Eric Holder.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nothing should be at the Federal level except national security.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Vote early and vote often, the Chicago way. But be discreet and don't get caught too many times voting in the same precinct even if it's an "African-American" one.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (18)
All Comments   (18)
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The "fix" should be at the state level at the highest. There is a case to be made that _local_ level would also work.

And picture Id? Great! New Hampshire has it, and I say it's about time. (I'm a "senior citizen" on a restricted income, with chronic breathing problems, so the whine about "seniors, the poor, and the handicapped cuts no ice with me.)
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
as long as it requires a picture identification to vote either one.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
The problems we have in Washington have to be solved at the state level, where district gerrymandering, closed primaries and hurdles to third parties have created the polarization and gridlock we have in Congress. Moderate representation has dropped from about 36% two decades ago to about 11% today. Think it’s great because that means more hardcore conservatives? Not so fast, because it also means proportionately more hardcore liberals.

The resulting polarization in Congress means that Washington DC is no longer a place where good ideas have a chance, or where those that govern best get the most votes. It’s a place where the goal is to make the other side look bad enough that you can get 51% and ram your agenda down everyone’s throat for 4 or 8 years, until the pendulum swings the other way and we spend 4 or 8 years undoing that agenda. It’s no way to run a government, and it allows us to stagnate while our overseas rivals grow stronger.

Unfortunately the districting and election laws at the state level, in most cases, are established by the leaders of both major parties. They perceive themselves as beneficiaries of the status quo, and will resist change at all costs. At some point we’ll have to wake up and force change, and it will probably take a court challenge to make it happen. There’s no other practical way to change a system that’s so hopelessly gamed.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
FedGov, according to the Constitution, ONLY have authority to set the date for national elections. ALL else is left to the states. To have them butting in, trying to put a FedFix onto localised problems is a good part of why we've got to this mess. They can NOT meddle with things like voter ID, methods of balloting, etc. Those are the responsibilities of the respective states.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
If people care so very little about their country and what is happening to it that standing in line to exercise one of their most precious RIGHTS is a burden, then don't exercise that right. Stay home and let the voting machines the create outcomes of elections again.

If on the other hand they DO care about their country then get rid of those easily manipulated electronic vote tabulators and return to verifiable paper ballots counted by 3 people each.

There is absolutely NO NEED to know the result of ANY election and ESPECIALLY the national election before midnight on election night. Those elected do not even take office for 2 months after the election. SO RETURN TO VERIFIABLE AND OVERALL MORE HONEST ELECTIONS.

While were at it, setup a new political party in the process that is actually setup by and for the people and not owned and controlled by corporate special interests. That's why I like what this video puts forth: http://youtu.be/18UgYFoZKQY
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Lois Lerner's first gig was the Federal Election Commission. There are no doubt like-minded people still there.

States all the way.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Should Election Reform Be at the Federal or State Level?"

Everything should be returned to the State level. Drain the DC swamp.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
State or federal? How about just yes.

It occurs to me that any commission which is commissioned by incumbents is going to suggest reforms that mostly help incumbents.

Besides balloting integrity laws like photo ID for voters, eliminating mail in voting, restricting absentee voting to people who are actually absent, and ensuring that members of our armed forces can vote if they choose, the number one vote reform we can make is term limits not by restricting the number of terms that can be served but by prohibiting back to back to back terms--prohibit incumbency.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mail in voting IS very safe, secure, and effective. Where the issues have come in (Washington State) theey have arisen from crooked ballot counting, and "mysteriously appearing" cartons of ballots. There are rules in place, they were ignored.
I KNOW how it works in Washington, each county recorder/electioins office vets the registrations annually, weeding out duplicate names verifying addresses, keeping signature cards current, removing felons and deceased, and verifying the identity of newly registered voters. There were issues with timely mailing of ballots to overseqs military, but these have been largely dealt with. A good part of those issues arose from military postal systems not functioning well, With mailin, NO ONE can vote multiple times, and if local officers do their jobs, no dead people can vote, early or often. Ballots are mailed out to last address of voter per voter rolls, and cannot be forwarded to another address. Returning completed ballots can be either by putting a stamp on the ballot and getting it into the mail, or by droppping it at any of a number of secure drop boxes.. and there are three of those within five miles of my house, so they ARE accessible.
I do thinik the process of registering needs to be tightened up a bit.. photo ID, registering in person, proof of residence address (mainly to preclude multiple addresses for same person).

As to term limits.... no way. When we finally manage to get a GOOD person in office, we need to be able to return them to continue their GOOD work. The problem is not lack of term limits, the problem is voters who choose to either not know, or not care. Term limits are effected by the ballot box. Get a jerk, don't send him back next election. Corrupt politics can maneouvre the term limit restrictions to simply put into office one rotten office-holder after the next. So stupid Washington voters sent Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell back to the Senate AGAIN in recent elections.... when in both cases there were excellent candidates competing. The Dem party is strong enough here to easily find people of similar corruption levels and simply put them up one after the next, and maintain their grip... until the voters wise up and say ENOUGH. We;ve had good candidates, but voters simply follow the herd and return the creeps. Term limits won't change a thing until the VOTERS wake up and decide the status quo is no longer acceptible.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Mail in voting IS very safe, secure, and effective."
&
"There are rules in place, they were ignored."

The truth of the second invalidates the first.

The trouble with incumbency is the advantages seem either to accrue more to the corrupt, or there are too few good politicians for any to get elected. Either way, more turnover is a good thing. I still suggest banning incumbency, and getting rid of other term limits.

19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
Are they gonna set up voting booths in Tiajuana and Mexico City?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
States, States, States, and States. The federal mess has no place anywhere near this as has been proven by the malfeasance of Eric Holder.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
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