Election officials should expand early voting opportunities and use online voter registration systems to help alleviate long lines to cast ballots and fraudulent registrations, a nonpartisan commission said in a report released Wednesday.
The White House last March established the Presidential Commission on Election Administration to address a range of electoral issues, including voting accessibility and voting machine technology. President Barack Obama chose his 2008 and 2012 campaign counsel, Robert Bauer of Perkins Coie, and Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 campaign counsel, Benjamin Ginsberg of Patton Boggs, to lead the 10-member group.
The commission spent six months speaking with state and local election officials, academics and others involved in the election process. The group focused on improving the administration of elections—such as waiting less than 30 minutes to vote.
“Our aim was to transcend partisan divisions and view election administration as public administration that must heed the expressed interests and expectations of voters,” Bauer and Ginsberg said in a joint statement.
The report found that, all things being equal, extending the period for early voting should relieve congestion at polling places. Nearly one third of voters in the 2012 election cast their ballot before Election Day, more than double the rate of the 2000 election, a trend the commission predicted would continue.
“Stated simply, early voting offers Americans opportunities to participate in the electoral process that simply cannot be afforded by the contained 12-hour period of the traditional Election Day,” according to the report.
Voters have a greater tolerance for wait times with early voting, the report found. “Having chosen the day and time for voting that is convenient for them, early voters are described as being in a more ‘celebratory’ frame of mind than under the often rushed circumstances they face on Election Day when they must vote at a specific location on a specific day,” the commission said.
The use of online registration not only facilitates state agency efforts to register voters, but it enables outside groups to send people directly to the state’s system to register, the report states. Such measures, the report said, would reduce “the chances of fraud and other irregularities of a paper-based system, in which outside groups may destroy registration forms or submit fraudulent registrations.”
The commission looked at data from 19 states that authorized or implemented a complete online voter registration system, and five others that offer a more limited version. The report said “these systems have performed to expectations and have earned high confidence among voters, as well as support among election officials across the political spectrum.”
Voting officials were urged in the commission’s report to update and exchange voter registration lists to create the most accurate lists possible to increase registration rates, reduce costs and protect against fraud.
The commission also pointed to a need to address “soon-to-be antiquated voting machines” bought with federal funds 10 years ago, after the recount of the 2000 presidential election.
Obama announced the commission during his State of the Union address last year. His victory speech on Nov. 6 mentioned voters who waited in long lines to cast ballots. “I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time,” Obama said in the speech. “By the way, we have to fix that.”
At the White House on Wednesday, Obama thanked Bauer and Ginsberg “for taking on this largely thankless job” and said the lawyers shared “a reputation for integrity, for smarts and a commitment to making sure that our democracy works the way it is supposed to.”
Obama said their recommendations were “outstanding” and could be embraced by all, and the White House would publicize the recommendations to local election officials.
Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said the recommendations were a good first step but more needs to be done.
“We need to fix the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court eviscerated last year, in order to protect against restrictive and often discriminatory voting laws,” she said.