Thoughts on the New Presidential Commission on Election Administration


[Image courtesy of washingtontimes]

The announcement last night of a new Presidential Commission on Election Administration brings to an end the speculation about President Obama’s plans to act on his observation that “we need to fix” problems with the nation’s election system.

In one way, the decision to appoint a new Commission is a little puzzling, given the existence of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission; however, given the political limbo facing the EAC, the Administration may have decided that bypassing the appointment process via executive order was a way to get started on the process sooner than later.

The choices to co-chair the Commission are very encouraging. Ben Ginsberg and Bob Bauer, while fierce advocates for their parties’ interests, have a long history of cooperation with one another on projects in this field, including attempts to help the nation’s judges bring some order to the often-messy process of election litigation. Hopefully, this will encourage policymakers on both sides of the aisle to look past what Election Law Blog’s Rick Hasen calls “the voting wars” and identify some solutions that can garner bipartisan support.

Even better, it appears that the Commission’s goals are encouragingly different from past efforts of this kind. First of all, it will include “professional election officials known
for their successful administration of elections,” which should help ensure that whatever recommendations do emerge are done by – and not to – the women and men who run elections nationwide. Second, the call for the Commission is very explicit about a call for a “customer service orientation” in elections, which encompasses a wide variety of approaches (like design) that could be used to identify ways to make the system work better. The inclusion of business leaders offers some hope that the discussion won’t bog down on familiar topics.

Best of all, it sounds like the Commission is actually going to use evidence to fuel its deliberations. I spoke yesterday afternoon to someone familiar with the Commission’s plans, who said that the goal is to use data to orient the discussion toward election administration issues. I’m guessing the folks over at Pew are pinching themselves today, given the recent release of their new Elections Performance Index.

I don’t want to oversell the Commission – it’s not like we haven’t had numerous similar efforts in the years since the 2000 election – but given its timing, its leadership and the promise to look at data instead of “anecdata” – I am more encouraged about the potential for solutions than I was at this time yesterday.

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