Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

The Right to Vote: A Conversation with the Co-Chairs of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration 1

Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

The Right to Vote: A Conversation with the Co-Chairs of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration 1

Article excerpt

GERKEN: It is delightful to be sharing the question-and-answer session with Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg for two reasons. The first is that they are far more expert than any academic on campaign-finance laws, so I'll give the hard questions about my talk to them. Second, any time that you're annoyed about something in campaign finance-soft money loopholes and so on-these are the guys that drove the big trucks of money through those loopholes. So, I'd be delighted to send those questions their way as well.

The topic for the next period, however, is going to be the president's commission on election adminstration. You may remember what the president said when he accepted the presidency-that we need to fix the lines. In the wake of that comment, he created a commission, and Bob and Ben are the Chairs of it. They're going to talk a little about the mission of that commission, the work that they've been doing, and what they've been seeing on the ground. Then we'll close and answer questions on any of these topics.

My first question is simply: What is the mission of your Commission? I ask this because most election reformers think that you're going to fix everything. And, so, are you going to fix everything?


BAUER: Yes, I think, obviously we are doing this as Linda [Greenhouse] mentioned. We are partisans. I'm on the Commission, not so much because I was White House Counsel but because during the same presidential campaign, I was counsel to Obama for America when Ben was counsel to the Romney-for-President campaign, and this Commission is not intended to fix everything-it's penance for the number of loopholes that Ben and I have developed over the years. But the answer is no, we can't fix everything. And there's an interesting question to raise about what it means to "fix" problems with the political system, and I hope we can talk about that because what is a problem sometimes depends entirely on the vantage point of the observer and, sometimes, a partisan observer.

But the goal here is to look at an electoral process in the United States that in some respects works remarkably well for many Americans and in other respects, when it breaks down, is surprisingly and disturbingly dysfunctional. Lines being one example, but not the only example. The Executive Order under which we're operating identifies a host of issues in the operation of the electoral process that presents significant impediments to voters and the exercise of franchise. I'll pass it on to Ben here to talk in more detail about the Executive Order. It's not a "fix everything;" it's a "look at very specific issues that nonetheless could make a big difference in the experience of voters."

GINSBERG: Well, as a partisan hack, I'm honored to be before all of you. The mission of the Commission is one where the president laid out an executive order, and the topics that he asked us to fix are the ones that are barriers to voters in the more than 8,000 separate voting jurisdictions in the country that have some authority. So, we are asked to try and deal with barriers to voting faced by individuals in polling places.

We're conscious of the fact that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions; what you face here in Philadelphia is going to be distinctly different from what someone in rural Kansas faces as obstacles, but those obstacles exist and the president laid out a number of things, including the number of polling locations and the management, operation, and design of polling places, which includes the long-line phenomenon. It includes poll workers-how do you get enough poll workers who are trained well enough to help out with elections; issues that arise for military and other overseas voters in terms of getting their ballots back and forth, voting machine capacity, technology, and ballot simplicity? What do you do in disaster situations if another Hurricane Sandy hits near Election Day? …

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