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February 13, 2013 12:37 PM SOTU Policy Stuff: Election Reform

By Ed Kilgore

The Nation’s Ari Berman, the preeminent reporter on the Republican Party’s “war on voting,” pretty much described my own reaction to the president’s rap last night on election reform:

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….
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 recall 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.”

Besides, doesn’t this “bipartisan commission on election rights” thing sound a mite familiar? Oh yeah:

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 it would make more sense to reanimate the old HAVA-created commission than to set up a new one. But the whole idea of a commission strikes me as missing the point: if Republicans can be shamed into supporting the obvious election reforms, then there’s abundant material already out there based on their behavior dating back to 2000 and beyond. They should at least be forced directly in Congress (as has already happened in some states) to oppose simple reforms like adequate opportunities for early voting, a ban on partisan pre-election voter roll “purges,” and a presumption of eligibility, so that at least they pay the price for offensive attitudes towards the minority and first-time voters most affected by voter suppression tactics. Letting them hide behind another commission that can be stonewalled and then gutted is a bad idea.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • iyoumeweus on February 13, 2013 1:29 PM:

    AMENDMENT CONCERNING ELECTION OF FEDERAL OFFICERS
    Section 1: ARTICLE II, Section 1, Paragraphs 2 and 3 to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed and superseded by this amendment. Henceforth, the President and the Vice President shall be elected directly by a popular vote of all citizens 18 or over on Election Day, as determined by the Congress and approved by the President in accordance with the Constitution.
    Section 2: Amendment XII and Amendment XXIII shall be superseded by this Amendment except for the following sentences of Amendment XII:
    a. The person having the greatest number of votes for President shall be President
    b. The person having the greatest number of votes for Vice President shall be Vice President
    c. No person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice President of the United States.
    d. The President and Vice President shall not be an inhabitant of the same state.
    Section 3: Each member of the House of Representatives shall represent no more then 250,000 +/- 12,500 citizens. As the nationís population increases or decreases the number of House member will increase or decrease to accommodate this requirement. Congressional Districts shall be compact and drawn along state, country, city, town and village lines wherever possible to accommodate equal representation. In some instances, election district boundaries may have to be used but in no case can election districts be divided except in accordance with state, county and local laws. In cities with a population greater than one million (1,000,000) Congressional Districts need not be compact but drawn in such a manner so as to reflect the various ethnic, cultural and neighborhood interests, differences and diversities residing within our country.
    Section 4: Any state with a population of five million (5,000,000) shall be able to elect another Senator and receive an additional Senator for each additional increase in five million citizens. All Senators shall be elected at large and represent the entire state in Congress.
    Section 5: The Congress shall have the power to establish by law all procedures pertaining to the election of President and Vice President including: the certification and transmission of election results, a sorting and winnowing process of potential candidates, voter identification, guaranteeing each citizen the right to vote in secret and ensuring each vote is counted.
    Section 6: Federal judges shall have the power to review and adjust Congressional District boundaries to better reflect Section 3, but the compliant must come from within the Congressional District(s) with an accompanying petition signed by ten per cent (10%) of those residing within the district(s).
    Section 7: a. Any state having fewer than 250,000 citizens shall be guaranteed one representative and two Senators.
    b. The District of Columbia may elect representatives in accordance with its population and Section 3.
    c. The District of Columbia being once a part of Maryland may take part in electing Senators from Maryland.
    Section 8: The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

  • c u n d gulag on February 13, 2013 1:29 PM:

    Election Reform?

    You bethca the Republicans want "Election Reform!!!"

    Just not the way that Obama and the Democrats mean the term.

    They don't want people to have the right to vote, only the right people to have the right to vote.

  • jjm on February 13, 2013 1:48 PM:

    It might have been better to have a commission like the one we had in California, strictly non-partisan, a mix of ordinary citizens, retired judges, etc.

    They did a fine job. And they received secondary approval when the GOP, which lost their undeserved hold over several districts, got a ballot initiative to hold a referendum on it. We approved it by healthy margins.

    Still, it has to be bi-partisan or it would look way too fishy to most people.

  • DTR on February 13, 2013 2:04 PM:

    The commission idea was a significant blot on an otherwise masterfully crafted speech. Senator Reed and 18 other co-sponsors have already introduced Senate Bill 9 "The Clean and Fair Elections Act". It is a perfectly fine bill and should get the President's support now.

    The speech had a tone of mom and apple pie interspersed with sensible proposals that targeted a majority of Americans where they live. The President successfully paradoxed the Republicans. They have been thoroughly exposed as obstructionist fools. They almost have to get on board. Cue the Republican we can't walk and chew gum at the same time whining. All they have left is slow walking and outdated ideas.

    I'm not sure what Rubio achieved for his own ends. It surely wasn't a nationally appealing speech and he might be a bit early for rallying the wingnuts for 2016 primaries. He seemed schizo to me - Gov't helped me and family, but Gov't bad.

  • schtick on February 13, 2013 3:33 PM:

    The problem is, we've been having election reform all along, but it's been voting suppression. I'll believe in a fair and national honest election reform when it is finally implemented. Of course, I'll be dead by then.

  • Altoid on February 13, 2013 3:39 PM:

    Re Ginsberg, "it takes a thief to catch a thief," maybe?

  • low-tech cyclist on February 13, 2013 4:26 PM:

    Forget reform. We need a Constitutional amendment stating once and for all that every US citizen of 18 years of age or older has an inalienable right to vote in Federal elections that may not be infringed.

  • jkl; on February 13, 2013 4:42 PM:

    Cun de gulag nails it. Republicans' interest in election reform is to keep people other than them from getting to the voting place

  • Doug on February 13, 2013 7:39 PM:

    imeyouweus, there's no need to amend the Constitution. Congress already has the necessary authority:
    Article I, Section 4, para. 1:
    "The Times, Places and Manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators."
    Right now, literally as I type this, Congress have the Constitutional authority to enact legislation prescribing the date of Federal elections, what identification (if any) needed to vote in Federal elections, the number of personnel and voting machines at each polling station and the hours those polling sites are to remain open.
    Even with a Republican-controlled House, I'd think it would take much less time to pass a VRA that included the above than it would to get an amendment through Congress and then past the legislatures of 37 states.
    Just sayin...