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Shorter Lines? For Elections Commission, It's Common Sense


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Remember the scenes of those endless voting lines in the 2012 presidential election? Some voters waited for six hours or more to cast their ballots. Well, now a presidential commission has come up with some ways to fix the problem. The panel, appointed by President Obama himself, suggests that more early voting and better voting technology would help. But, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports, they're just recommendations.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Perhaps the most memorable symbol of the long lines of 2012 was Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old woman who waited for more than three hours to vote in North Miami, Florida. President Obama invited her to his State of the Union Address last year, when he said he would appoint a bipartisan commission to make sure it didn't happen again.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We can fix this and we will. The American people demand it and so does our democracy.

FESSLER: Today, the president met with that ten-member commission at the White House and said its recommendations were, for the most part, common sense.

OBAMA: With an important goal, which is that no American should have to wait more than half an hour to vote.

FESSLER: To do that, the panel suggested several things. It said state and local officials can reduce long lines by allowing more early voting and voting by mail. It also recommended online voter registration and it encouraged states to compare voter lists to eliminate duplicate registrations. David Becker, director of election initiatives for the Pew Charitable Trusts, says errors on voter lists can cause many Election Day problems.

DAVID BECKER: It can lead to lead to long lines at the polls. It can lead to casting provisional ballots. It can lead to voters not receiving information on the election at all and going to the wrong polling place.

FESSLER: Becker applauded the recommendations, but also noted that implementing them won't be free.

BECKER: I think the single biggest challenge is going to be money.

FESSLER: And there's nothing in the report that tells cash-strapped states how to get it. The commission admits this could be a big problem in the not-too-distant future. Local officials told the panel repeatedly that they're worried that much of the voting equipment they now own is on its last legs. Still, the panel, which included election officials and business representatives, suggested some cheaper ways to control lines, like they do in the private sector. Things such as handing out numbers so people don't have to stand for hours or using line walkers, like they do at airports, to address potential problems before people get up front.

RICK HASEN: There are really so many great, commonsense solutions in this report. It's really very heartening.

FESSLER: Rick Hasen is an election expert at the University of California Irvine.

HASEN: The problem is that the commission has no power to do any of it, it's just the power of persuasion.

FESSLER: He notes that the bipartisan commission did not deal with any of the more controversial election issues, like voter ID requirements. Still, he says, the fact that the panel was co-chaired by two top election lawyers - Democrat Bob Bauer and Republican Ben Ginsberg - gives the recommendations a lot of weight in the often deeply divided world of voting. One of those frequently caught in those partisan fights over how elections are run is Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

JON HUSTED: I think the report's main recommendations are very solid and constructive.

FESSLER: Husted says Ohio's already done a lot to reduce lines, like allowing no-fault absentee voting. And he hopes the report gives his plan to allow Ohio voters to register online, a boost in the state legislature.

HUSTED: States who have problems with lines have a responsibility to enact any of the variety of options that are in this report to minimize that problem.

FESSLER: As for Desiline Victor, the elderly voter? A spokesman says she celebrated her 103rd birthday last month at the North Miami Public Library, where there's now a Desiline Victor Voting Wing. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.