Finally Fixing the Voting System, Hopefully

It’s no secret that the voting system in America is far from perfect. In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama again referenced the broken system and showed determination to improve it. “We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy,” he said last night -- with good reason.

The problems with the system are widespread and do not center on any specific region or demographic. Recently, The Pew Charitable Trust released the Elections Performance Index which ranks all 50 states and Washington, D.C. on their election administration performance based on data from the 2008 and 2010 elections. The comprehensive ranking uses 17 criteria, including wait time, voter registration rate, and absentee ballot rejection rate. Among the seven lowest performing states were Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia, but, maybe surprisingly, also New York and California. California alone counts for over 10% of electoral votes, which shows how dire the need for change is.

The goal of the rankings were to "shame poor performers into doing better," which might be working. Yesterday Obama said that he intends to establish a bipartisan commission to "improve the voting experience in America." He's asking the top lawyers from his campaign and from Romney's campaign to lead the charge. Obama didn't get into details about this commission, but he's not the first one to come up with something like this.

In 2002, the Help America Vote Act created the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. That commission was subsequently given $3 billion to give out to states for improving election administration. That commission also currently has no director and no commissioners. It hasn't had a quorum since 2010. But it started out promising. The original commissioners truly wanted to work together and to avoid the gridlock so frequently encountered by the Federal Election Commission. Things didn't work out at all. Let's hope this time there are better results.

Maybe this time, with growing awareness and comprehensive evidence that something needs to change, the new commission will accomplish its goals.