The United States is in desperate need of serious election
reform. We had an election meltdown in Florida in 2000, and a near-
meltdown in Ohio in 2004 that was narrowly averted. Fortunately for
the country, there were too many votes separating candidates Bush
and Kerry in Ohio to make election litigation over the state's many
problems worthwhile. Nonetheless, voter confidence in our election
system is declining. And in the increasingly polarized US
electorate, the possibility of another razor-thin presidential
election ending up in court in 2008 is far from negligible. Indeed,
the number of election cases in courts have more than doubled in the
period since 2000 compared with the period right before 2000.
From this perspective, the National Commission on Federal
Election Reform headed by former President Jimmy Carter and former
Secretary of State James Baker looked perfect: a high profile,
bipartisan effort to identify ways to fix America's decentralized,
increasingly politicized, and underfunded election system.
Unfortunately, by taking sides in a fight over voter identification
requirements, the Carter-Baker Commission squandered its political
capital, perhaps even setting back the cause for reform. That is
unfortunate for the country.
There is much good in the Carter-Baker report, issued Monday.
Most important, the commission recommended a move toward nonpartisan
election administration. (The US is one of the few democracies that
use partisan election officials to run their elections.) Carter-
Baker endorsed a suggestion I offered in testimony to the commission
that states remove election responsibilities from partisan elected
secretaries of State, placing them instead in the hands of
professional election administrators appointed by governors and
approved by a supermajority vote of state legislators. The
supermajority requirement ensures that there is true bipartisan
support for the election administrator. At the very least, state
election officials should promise to abide by a code of conduct that
keeps them out of the business of campaigning for other candidates
or ballot measures.
The commission also correctly recommended ways to improve voter
registration, including the requirement that states take proactive
roles to register voters. Registration reform could significantly
lower the chances of post-election meltdown; my study of the post-
2000 election litigation shows that many of the court cases involved
problems with registration rules. …