Whether it’s access to the polls or the integrity of the ballot, Americans can’t agree about what election priorities should be. Maybe the chief election official of Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted says it best: “make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
Husted was joined on a panel Tuesday by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and co-chairs of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg to delve into some of the efforts across the nation to improve the electoral system. The event was hosted by BPC’s Commission on Political Reform at the Ohio State University. BPC’s John Fortier moderated the discussion on ways to modernize voter registration, to reform congressional and state redistricting processes, and to improve the administrative capacity of our elections.
Modernizing voter registration with improved lists, greater use of technology, and sharing data across the states was advanced by the panelists as a practical and commonsense improvement to our election system. “One of the things that is happening across the country under both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state is online voter registration, where individuals are actually filling out their forms instead of making it a thrice-over paperwork project,” said election lawyer Ben Ginsberg.
Online registration would not only increase opportunities for voters to register or change their voter information, but allow election officials to keep more accurate, clean lists that will boost confidence in the voter rolls. Secretary of State Husted notes that, “it’s a modernization of our election process that we need to do in Ohio and we need to do this across the nation so that we can all exchange that data, and have a modernized system of elections in America that’s becoming of the democracy that we have.”
Line drawing is another oft-heard complaint about the system; it’s overly partisan, not transparent, and ultimately not fair. Reforms that transfer the redistricting process from state legislatures to commission-based systems receive support from many Americans despite caution from political scientists that redistricting is largely not responsible for increasing polarization in Congress. Still, the Commission on Political Reform is evaluating options that address these concerns. Ginsberg echoed the caution, saying that, “tonally, the reforms can make a difference, but the practical polarization in the country is more deeply rooted than merely changing the criteria on redistricting is going to take care of.”
Husted, supportive of creating a bipartisan redistricting process in Ohio, argued that even if redistricting is not the sole cause for polarization, there is still great merit for reform. “Our current system of redistricting is the fractured foundation on which our legislative branch is functioning both in Washington and across the state capitals across America. It doesn’t work,” he said.
Improving election administrative capacity is not always a front and center topic. However, Secretary Ritchie explained that with the rising popularity of early voting in the East and absentee voting in the West, we are already witnessing expansion of opportunities that will “give us ways that we can begin to find solutions that more people feel comfortable with that it’s going to address what they want as an individual, but keep integrity in the system.”
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration is focused on the administrative challenges and obstacles to efficient voting. The commission held public meetings across the country to receive testimony about ways to improve the administration of elections and reduce Election Day lines. Co-chair Bauer was optimistic that “just listening to the testimony, you hear identified a series of both problems and answers to those problems that suggest that this is indeed a fixable problem.”
BPC’s Commission on Political Reform is examining practical improvements to our electoral system, including redistricting and election administration reforms that can improve the ways our institutions function within an extremely polarized environment. The Commission will also study congressional reform and increasing opportunities for public service. The Commission will meet next at the John F. Kennedy Library and Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate in Boston, Massachusetts on March 26, 2014 to discuss reforms to the United States Congress.