After long lines at the polls made national news in 2012, President Barack Obama created the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration to help address this and other challenges. A year ago today, the commission presented its recommendations for reducing lines at polling places, upgrading voting technology, and streamlining voter registration. Since then, it has collaborated with other groups to help states and localities make needed improvements:
Lines at the polls
The commission concluded that the maximum acceptable time voters should have to wait to cast their ballots is half an hour. And although most voters waited less than that in 2012, waits reached an hour or much longer in several parts of the country.
The commission, in collaboration with the Bipartisan Policy Center, partnered with Orange and Seminole counties in Florida; Richland County, South Carolina; and Fairfax County and Richmond City, Virginia, as well as several universities during the 2014 general election to study:
- Line length.
- Ways to streamline the voting process.
- How online tools can help better allocate voting machines, poll workers, and other election resources.
In some of the counties, teams of observers documented the layout of polling places, the amount of time it took a voter to complete each stage of the process, and the number of people in line, counted at regular intervals. The counties will use this information to make improvements and changes before the 2016 presidential election.
The commission is also driving change in voting technology. The report found an “impending crisis” of nonworking equipment as machines in many states are nearing the end of their functional lives. The commission’s central recommendation on this issue was that voting system standards and the certification process need to be reformed immediately.
One of the major reasons for these problems is that the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which plays a key role in the standard setting and certification process, has been without commissioners since 2011. However, in December 2014 the Senate confirmed appointees for three of the four open positions, and those seats are now filled.
Almost immediately after the confirmation, the two co-chairs of the presidential commission sent letters to the incoming EAC commissioners asking them to take immediate action on voting technology, including adopting pending updates to voting system standards and following revised testing and certification guidelines.
Upgrading voter registration
The presidential commission also joined The Pew Charitable Trusts in recommending that states adopt online voter registration and join data-sharing programs such as the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to keep voter rolls up-to-date. Over the past year, five states—Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, and Missouri—added online voter registration, and four—Connecticut, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Oregon—plus the District of Columbia, joined ERIC. More states are poised to undertake these reforms in 2015.