Goals of Access, Accuracy and Accountability only Partially Met by Voting Panel’s Recommendations

Statement of Common Cause President Chellie Pingree on Carter-Baker panel recommendations

Former Secretary of State James Baker, co-chairman of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, stated today that “election reform is not easy.” Common Cause is pleased that the Commission recognizes that the work of reforming our nation’s system of voting is not finished, and that the passage and implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) is not enough to ensure that this fundamental right – voting – is truly available to all Americans. Close attention must be paid to the vast problems that still plague our election system and reports such as the commission’s help focus that attention.

Indeed, Common Cause supports some of the commission’s recommendations. We strongly back the commission’s recommendations for independent and nonpartisan election administration and we are pleased that the commission recognized the need for a voter verified paper audit trail. Voters’ confidence in the fairness of our voting system has been badly shaken by the specter of partisan elected and appointed officials making critical decisions about voting and by the introduction of unreliable electronic voting machines. Accuracy and accountability are served well by both recommendations.

However, we do have reservations about the substance and tone of some of the other recommendations in the report. In particular, we are deeply disappointed that the commission has placed great significance on a proposal for sweeping national ID requirements that would, in our view, erect an unnecessary barrier to voting for millions of Americans. The recommendations call for extensive distribution of these identification documents, but since distribution will be in the hands of state and local authorities with little money and a possible lack of incentive, we believe such requirements will result in widespread disenfranchisement. This provision would limit access to the ballot instead of increasing it.

In addition, while calling one section “Expanding Access to Elections” and deploring the low level of voter turnout in this country, the commission’s recommendations raise concerns and place restrictions on non-governmental voter registration drives. The commission should have instead recommended ways to improve elections officials’ own registration efforts while encouraging more cooperation with – not obstruction of – nongovernmental registration drives.

The work of reforming our election system is far from finished. Common Cause appreciates the efforts of the commission and will continue to work in Congress and the states to ensure that our election system meets the goals of access, accuracy, and accountability.