Report of the Commission on Federal Election Reform

The Commission on Federal Election Reform, a twenty-one member commission co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker III, has released its report, Building Confidence in U.S. Elections.

The commission was organized by American University’s Center for Democracy and Election Management and hearings began on April 18, 2005 with the goal of putting forth a set of recommendations to raise confidence in the electoral system. The report, released on September 19, 2005, “recommends a modern electoral system built on five pillars: (1) a universal and up-to-date registration list, accessible to the public; (2) a uniform voter identification system that is implemented in a way that increases, not impedes, participation; (3) measures to enhance ballot integrity and voter access; (4) a voter-verifiable paper trail and improved security of voting systems; and (5) electoral institutions that are impartial, professional, and independent.

The document puts forward 87 specific recommendations; the top items are:

  • The implementation of a universal voter registration system where states (instead of local jurisdictions such as county or township) are responsible for the accuracy and quality of voter lists. This recommendation includes the proposal of a distributed database in which the registration lists can be shared interstate.
  • Creation of a uniform system of voter identification based on an identification card. This includes the recommendation that states issue free photo-id cards in an affirmative role to those without a driver’s license
  • Addition of measures to increase voter participation by asking states to assume a greater responsibility to register citizens, make voting more convenient, offer more information on registration lists and voting, host civic education programs, and more.
  • The inclusion of an auditable backup on paper for electronic voting systems in order to provide confidence that ballots cast using these machines are counted accurately.
  • The strengthening and restructuring of the system by which elections have been administered in the country through a reconstitution of the EAC and state election agencies on a non-partisan basis.

In addition to the main points, there are many other specific recommendations, including:

  • A proposal that the media improve coverage of election by providing longer candidate discourse – at least five minutes – each night in the month preceding the election
  • Ask that media voluntarily refrain from projecting presidential election results until polls close in the 48 contiguous states
  • States provide unrestricted access toll legitimate domestic and international election observers.
  • Changing the Presidential Primary schedule by creating four regional primaries
  • For states to certify their presidential election prior to the “safe harbor” date. In addition, for states to enact new statutes to ensure that its resolution of all election disputes are given conclusive effect by Congress under United States Code

Overall, the report has an extensive and relatively comprehensive list of very practical changes. Further entries will discuss some of these in more detail.