Shortening Lines At Polling Stations A Challenging Task

The president's commission to address long lines at the polls and other voting problems will held its first meeting in Washington, D.C., on Friday. It will have six months to come up with recommendations on how to fix the problems.

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From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Melissa Block. Seven months ago, many voters waited in long lines to cast ballots in the presidential election. Well, today, a presidential commission charged with fixing the problem was finally up and running. As NPR's Pam Fessler reports, the panel's looking for answers to questions that have challenged election officials for a long time.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Just to refresh your memory, when President Obama gave his victory speech in the wee hours of the morning Nov. 7th, some polls in Miami Dade County, Fla., had just closed. That was after voters had waited in line for six, seven, even eight hours - voters like 18-year-old Andre Murias, who said his first-ever voting experience felt more like a tailgate party.

ANDRE MURIAS: I think the next four years, if it's like this we'll bring a grill, a cooler - because this is ridiculous.

FESSLER: So ridiculous that Obama vowed that night to fix the problem. Today, in Washington, D.C., the commission that's supposed to carry out that mission was officially sworn in.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICIAL: I - insert your name - do solemnly swear...

FESSLER: The 10 members include current and former election officials as well as people from the private sector who might be able to help, people like Brian Britton.

BRIAN BRITTON: I'm an executive of 15 years at Disney, specifically the parks and resorts segment. We know a thing or two about lines down there.

FESSLER: And moving big crowds through fast. The commission, which hopes to make life easier for voters, is headed by two attorneys who know a thing or two about the politics of running elections. Ben Ginzberg has worked on numerous Republican presidential campaigns. Bob Bauer has done the same for Democrats. They both vowed to keep politics out of the deliberations as much as possible.

BOB BAUER: So we're going to be looking to find common ground and find common ground on the basis of the best possible analysis reached in a thoroughgoing analytic fashion.

FESSLER: That was Democrat Bauer. To do all this, the commission will hold four public hearings in the coming months. They'll start next Friday in Miami. Later, they'll go to Denver, Philadelphia and Ohio, all places that experienced problems at the polls. The challenge is that most experts say there are lots of reasons that millions of voters had to wait more than two hours last year to vote. It could've been an extra long ballot or not enough voting machines or poorly trained poll workers.

The commission's research director, election law expert Nate Persily, says another problem is that voter registration lists are often filled with inaccuracies, including duplicate registrations, misspellings and the names of those who have moved or died.

NATE PERSILY: You have longer waits as poll workers struggle to match names. You may have more provisional ballots if names don't match the list. You could have a great likelihood of later unmailed absentee ballots if the addresses aren't accurate and they're going to be returned back and forth.

FESSLER: And the problem of lost or rejected absentee ballots is another issue the commission's supposed to tackle. In fact, besides trying to figure out how to shorten lines, the president's asked the panel to look at improving the overall voting experience and eliminating barriers for military, overseas and disabled voters. It's a big assignment and they only have six months to complete it. Then when they're done, the commission can only suggest solutions. It can't force anyone to do anything at all. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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