States should make voting easier by expanding early voting, increasing online voter registration, and checking their voter registration lists against those of other states, a bipartisan federal commission said Wednesday.
Lines at some polling places were so long on Election Day 2012 that people were still waiting to vote when President Obama gave his victory speech that night, prompting the re-elected president to ad lib "we've got to fix that.''
More than 5 million people waited more than an hour to vote in 2012, according to the commission, and an additional 5 million people waited more than 30 minutes. Similarly long lines occurred in 2008 and 2004. "Several million of our 130 million voters are waiting in line for an unacceptably long time,'' the commission said. "No voter should have to wait more than half an hour in order to have an opportunity to vote.''
The report released Wednesday comes from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration convened by Obama after his re-election and headed by the top lawyers for his campaign and that of Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
"Our democracy demands that our citizens participate in a smooth and effective way," Obama said Wednesday as he received the report. "We could have even more problems in the future if we don't act now.''
Improving the accuracy of voter registration rolls is critical to keeping lines short, the commission said. Online voter registration, currently offered in only 24 states, would eliminate some of the inaccuracies that currently cause problems, the report said. From 8% to 15% of voter registrations are inaccurate, according to the commission.
The so-called "motor voter" law, the 1993 law that allows voter registration at motor vehicle agencies, was supposed to improve voter registration, the commission said. However, the commission, called departments of motor vehicles "the weakest link in the system'' of voter registration. "Some DMVs appear to disregard the law,'' it said, with the result that voters who think they have updated their registration at the bureaus find otherwise when they get to the polling place and have problems voting. "Motor Voter is not working as intended,'' the report said.
The report was delayed by the December government shutdown but still comes with ample time before the 2014 congressional elections, said Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. "With better recommendations and more attention devoted to addressing these problems we can see a real dent even if we don't solve the problems by 2014. This is certainly early enough for states to affect their planning.''
Although communities have been increasingly reluctant to use schools as polling places because of security worries, the commission recommends schools be used because they offer the best facilities, but students should be given the day off. About one-third of polling places are in schools.
The recommendations are coming a week after Congress unveiled legislation to make fixes to the Voting Rights Act, parts of which were struck down by the Supreme Court last year. Weiser said that shows momentum in a desire to improve the voting system.