Which Presidential Commission recommendations to follow? - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Which Presidential Commission recommendations to follow?

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Michael G. Adams Michael G. Adams
Katie Santmyer Katie Santmyer
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Michael G. Adams is a partner in the government relations practice group at Dinsmore & Shohl. Katie Santmyer is a member of the firm’s government relations practice group. Adams’ political law practice focuses on counseling and representing candidates, PACs, issue groups, donors and political consultants in both federal and state elections. Santmyer routinely works with candidates, committees and issue groups on political law matters in federal, state and local elections.

With the 2012 presidential election well in the rearview mirror, the 2014 midterm elections are rapidly approaching. In light of the systemic voting problems afflicting many jurisdictions, President Barack Obama last year tasked a Presidential Commission on Election Administration with outlining recommendations for its improvement. The Commission was a bi-partisan task force of experienced elections administrators, including the chief legal counsels of the (Mitt) Romney and Obama campaigns, as well as professionals from the private sector, including a Walt Disney World executive all too familiar with long lines.

Following months of public hearings and consultations with state and local election officials, academics and organizations involved with election administration, the Commission this year issued a 70-page report, titled “The American Voting Experience.” The Commission recommended a number of largely non-ideological reforms to ensure that, “as a general rule, no voter should have to wait more than half an hour in order to have an opportunity to vote.” To its credit, the Commission respected the fact that our federal Constitution places states in charge of conducting elections, rather than advocating for a federal takeover. The report offers several “best practices” that jurisdictions may adopt on their own, and addresses such issues as technological advancements, scarcity of resources, military voting and early voting.

What can West Virginia learn from the report? For one, “online voter registration is rapidly establishing itself in the states as an invaluable tool for managing the accuracy of voter rolls and reducing the costs of list maintenance.” As of the report’s last count, 19 states had authorized or implemented a complete online voter registration system. The Commission found that online registration actually “reduces the high potential for error that exists with traditional paper-based systems; saves jurisdictions a significant amount of money; (and) increases the accuracy and currency of the voter rolls, thereby reducing delays and congestion at the polling place(.)” To be sure, there are concerns about online security, but tethering online registration to the DMV or another statewide database and requiring a digitized signature are safeguards the state could implement.

West Virginia has brought its voter registration application online, but does not allow it to be submitted online. Users can print out the form on the secretary of state’s website, but they must still complete it by hand and turn it in to their local county clerk’s office. The state should make the form not only available online but also allow people to submit it online.

Beyond voter convenience and greater cost efficiency, online voter registration could aid the state in its synchronization of voter lists with those of other states. Here’s an example where West Virginia is ahead of the curve: it is one of 36 states belonging to an interstate exchange program for the sharing and comparison of voter data. Information sharing among states helps ensure accuracy of voter rolls, catch fraud and reduce waiting time at the polls.

West Virginia already adheres to a prime recommendation of the report: expansive opportunities for so-called “early voting.” The state should utilize technology here, too, through online tracking of absentee ballots. Those who vote by mail have no way to confirm their ballots have been counted. County clerks’ websites should enable voters to verify processing of their absentee ballot request and receipt of their completed ballot.

From implementation of online voter registration to improved processes for tracking absentee balloting, the report shows there is substantial common ground among Democrats and Republicans on common sense reforms. Implementing many of the report’s best practices will help to ensure maximally free, fair and secure elections.