President Obama’s second inaugural address touched on the reality that the United States has a dysfunctional election system. Describing the nation’s progress, as well as the ways in which the nation needs to progress, the president declared, “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”
Obama drew knowing applause when he spoke that truth in January 2013, as he did in November 2012, when just hours after his re-election the president noted that millions of Americans had “waited in line for a very long time” to vote. Then, in an ad lib that got more attention than his prepared remark, the president added: “By the way we have to fix that.”
On Wednesday, the process of fixing the problem—and of moving America a few more steps toward democracy—accelerated. A little.
The bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration that Obama appointed last year released a report that recommends:
1. Modernization of the registration process through continued expansion of online voter registration and expanded state collaboration in improving the accuracy of voter lists.
2. Measures to improve access to the polls through multiple opportunities to vote before the traditional Election Day and the selection of suitable, well-equipped polling place facilities, such as schools.
3. State-of-the-art techniques to assure efficient management of polling places, including tools the Commission is publicizing and recommending for the efficient allocation of polling place resources.
4. Reforms of the standard-setting and certification process for new voting technology to address soon-to-be antiquated voting machines and to encourage innovation and the adoption of widely available off-the-shelf technologies.
These are relatively tepid proposals. But they move in the right direction on several fronts. Making it easier to register and vote is important; modernizing registration procedures and expanding early and absentee voting programs, can help with this. So, too, can the improved allocation of resources and technology to assure that every voter in every state has a roughly equal chance to cast a ballot in a timely, respectful and efficient manner.
So the president was pleased with the report. He received it with much fanfare and described the recommendations as “outstanding.”
Obama says that he and his aides will “reach out to stakeholders all across the country to make sure that we can implement” the commission’s report.” The president brings to this work a sense of urgency that is appropriate, reminding Americans that “one of the troubling aspects of the work that they did was hearing from local officials indicating that we could have even more problems in the future if we don’t act now.”