Crowds line up around the block for a long wait to vote Nov. 6 at Noyes Elementary School in Washington, D.C. In his State of the Union speech, Obama called for a commission to address some of the issues that greeted voters this past Election Day.
In the days since the announcement, MacNamara and others have pointed out that the country already has a commission charged with developing best practices for voting. That agency, the Election Assistance Commission, still exists but operates without a single commissioner, executive director or general counsel because of disagreements in Congress over whether it should be equipped or eliminated.
Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University California, Irvine, said that although the two entities may seem similar, they have unique missions and distinct capabilities.
“I think they’re totally different things,” Hasen said. “The Election Assistance Commission is an agency that’s functioning on a continuing basis, while this is meant to be a six-month commission to make recommendations and then push those recommendations forward.”
MacNamara said the problems voters encounter when casting ballots have been identified and that the potential solutions, based on research conducted by the EAC and others, are well-known.
“To say we’re not going to even try to push legislation that is already in Congress . . . the only realistic outcome of that is going to be that, once again, we are going to kick this can down the road, as we do every four years,” MacNamara said.
Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Barbara Boxer of California and Reps. George Miller of California and John Lewis of Georgia, all Democrats, have already introduced election-related legislative proposals, none of which has picked up bipartisan support.
“It doesn’t look like the Democrats have a dance partner on anything,” Hasen said. As for the commission, he said, “I think we have to wait and see. Its goals are modest. It was clear from the fact sheet . . . the commission is going to make proposals that state and local authorities can adopt. The likelihood of that happening I think depends on what those proposals are and how they’re presented.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.