One thing it cannot do, but would be the most significant and beneficial reform, is to do away with partisan election officials in the states. The United States is the only major democracy that does not have professional, nonpartisan election administration, relying instead on elected, partisan secretaries of state. It is like having an NFL game refereed by part-owners of one of the teams playing in the game.
In the absence of that reform, a bill should start with a sense of Congress that there is a right to vote for citizens of the United States, something that is not in the Constitution but should be.
It should follow with a set of national guidelines for states to adjudicate contested election outcomes and create standards for reducing the number of provisional ballots.
Next, we need genuine modernization of voter registration rolls, automating the rolls, allowing people to register more easily, making registration portable and enabling the system to track registrations across state lines, while also creating reliable electronic records to reduce the number of errors that take place at the polls when people are mistakenly turned away or forced to file provisional ballots.
A national Election Day registration would also help immensely, as we have seen in the many states that have implemented same-day registration.
Next, Congress should create a separate federal ballot. Let the states design their own ballots for state and local issues, but no more butterfly ballots or other confusing forms, and no more denying people the right to vote for president, Senate or House because they mistakenly show up at the wrong precinct or polling place. A federal ballot would be simple and easy to craft and administer because it would usually have no more than three offices.
At the same time, Congress should create an easy option for a photo ID for voting — namely, making readily available a Social Security card with photo for anyone who can show either an existing Social Security card or a Social Security number with proof of identity. The cards could be available at Social Security offices or even made available at Costco and other more readily accessible places, and they would in one stroke solve the problem of voter IDs that are either costly (because poor or elderly Americans have to purchase copies of birth certificates) or inaccessible in states that have made the voter ID burdensome.
Finally, it is time for Congress to move Election Day to the weekend, ideally from noon Saturday to noon Sunday to avoid Sabbath issues, with early voting on the three days prior for those who are away for the weekend.
I am praying that we do not have another uncertain election outcome; the next time, half the country might take to the streets if the Supreme Court or partisan officials tilt the outcome or leave a taint of unfairness.
I hope it does not take another debacle to get some needed and desirable reforms.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.