Critics think the new bipartisan voting commission won't do much
to make it easier for Americans like 102-year-old Desiline Victor to cast ballots.
Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old Haitian immigrant who waited three hours to vote last fall and still had to come back later to cast her ballot, got a standing ovation when her presence was pointed out by President Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. She tried but couldn't stand. As one wag put it, however, she was more active than House Speaker John Boehner. He didn't stand to honor her.
The president's proposal of a bipartisan commission for ending the long lines she endured, as well as fixing other voting obstacles, isn't getting a standing ovation. One critic is the League of Women Voters. While praising many elements of Obama's speech, the league stated on its website:
“With these positive elements, we were thus surprised and disappointed that the President did not suggest bold action to ensure that every American citizen can exercise the right to vote. Setting up a commission is not a bold step; it is business as usual. The President could have done much better by pointing to real solutions like that in legislation already introduced on Capitol Hill to require early voting, set limits on waiting times, provide for portable voter registration and set up secure online voter registration.”
That was a mild critique compared with what Charles P. Pierce had to say about one of the two co-commissioners Obama has chosen to head the commission:
A bipartisan commission is the Washington policy equivalent of a sock drawer. Worse, the Republican co-chairman is Benjamin Ginsberg, who is nothing less than a high-class ratfcker. He was one of the elves who sought to delegitimize Bill Clinton. He was central to the legal shenanigans surrounding the Florida Heist of 2000. He was connected to the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry. And his committment to opposing the modern techniques of voter-suppression—particularly voter ID laws—is less than stout.At The Nation, Ari Berman, who has covered voter suppression of various kinds since 2011, also objected to what a poor choice Ginsberg is:
“Just like really with the Voting Rights Act, Republicans have some fundamental philosophical difficulties with the whole notion of Equal Protection.” And in 2012, he was counsel to the Romney campaign when it absurdly claimed that the Obama campaign was trying to suppress military voters by pushing for early voting for all Ohioans. Does that sound like the kind of guy you want leading a “non-partisan” voting commission?The Brennan Center for Justice, which has done yeoman's work in the fight against voter suppression, had a more favorable point of view. The commission "is an important step, focusing on improving the experience of voters. This should be a critical part of the larger mission of modernizing elections so every eligible citizen can vote and have that vote counted."
While the Brennan Center has some good ideas of its own for modernizing the vote, it is, as Berman says, hard to see exactly what the administration can accomplish in the realm of election reform without a willing Congress. He reminds us that Congress has hamstrung the Election Assistance Commission established in 2000. It hasn't met since 2011 and has no commissioners, no executive director, no general counsel. Republicans have worked to make sure it stays that way until they can abolish it altogether.
While the new commission is not likely to produce much if anything more than the old one, the very least the president could do, as Berman suggests, is to get Ben Ginsberg to publicly sign a pledge that he will work to make sure every American eligible to vote actually gets an opportunity to do that. That would be a big switch from his long-term efforts directed at finding every obstruction he can think of to keep people—certain people, that is—from exercising, in President Obama's words, "our most fundamental right as citizens."