More on the Carter-Baker report

As the day as worn on, and folks have had a chance to read through the 100-plus pages of the Carter-Baker Commission report, a number of perspectives have emerged.

  • Dan Tokaji took the Commission report to task early today, focusing on the Commission’s call for Congress to pass a “voter-verified paper audit trail” requirement for voting machines, the voter identification proposals, and how the Commission report characterized MIT colleague (VTP co-director) Ted Selker’s study of Nevada’s use of VVPAT in a recent election.
  • Tova Wang argues the the Carter-Baker report is much too heavily focused on voter fraud, and instead asserts that there are a set of problems in American elections, primarily associated with various forms of disenfranchisement.
  • Rick Hasen (like us!) says that the Commission’s call for nonpartisan election administration is the right call. Rick notes that there is material in the report (for example on the scheduling of presidential primaries) that is “distracting”, and he faults the Commission’s proposals on voter identification.
  • Spencer Overton, a member of the commission, has issued an official dissent. Spencer’s official dissent is summarized:

    The Commission’s “Real ID” recommendation is more restrictive than the photo ID proposal rejected by the Carter-Ford Commission in 2001, and more extreme than any ID requirement adopted in any state to date. The Commission’s proposal is so excessive that it would prevent eligible voters from proving their identity with even a valid U.S. passport or a U.S. military photo ID card.

    In addition, the Commission’s Report fails to undertake a serious cost-benefit analysis. The existing evidence suggests that the type of fraud addressed by photo ID requirements is extraordinarily small and that the number of eligible citizens who would be denied their right to vote as a result of the Commission’s ID proposal is exceedingly large. According to the 2001 Carter-Ford Commission, an estimated 6% to 10% of voting-age Americans (approximately 11 million to 19 million potential voters) do not possess a driver’s license or a state-issued non-driver’s photo ID, and these numbers are likely to rise as the “Real ID Act” increases the documentary requirements for citizens to obtain acceptable identification. The 2005 Carter-Baker Commission does not and cannot establish that its “Real ID” requirement would exclude even one fraudulent vote for every 1000 eligible voters excluded.

  • I just received a dissent from the Brennan Center, co-authored with Spencer Overton, which appears to be 31 pages long … focusing on the voter identication proposals, and recommendations to use Social Security numbers for voting-related activities, and proposals for felon re-enfranchisement.
  • Paul Gronke has offered a series of his reactions on his Early Voting blog, especially an interesting “critique of the critique” — his analysis of claims made in the Brennan Center critique regarding race and absentee balloting.
  • And as Thad noted earlier today, the League of Women Voters called “the recommendations a grab bag of recycled proposals.”

Thad quickly summarized our primary reactions to the report, two of which seem to be consistent with much of the reaction so far available. It is nice to see the Commission report support the call for nonpartisan election administration, though Thad and I share many of the concerns expressed about the recommendations for voter identification.

A few additional points to raise about the Commission’s work.

First, the Commission recommended (2.3.2) “a provisional ballot cast in the incorrect precinct but in the correct jurisdiction should be counted”. This is an important, and worthwhile recommendation that should be a national action item for election reformers; it was something I called for in my testimony before the Commission.

Second, the Commission had one recommendation on election observation (8.1.1), essentially that “All legitimate domestic and international election observers should be granted unrestricted access to the election process … Such observers should apply for accreditation …” Having tried to observe the election process directly in jurisdictions in the United States, I know how important it is that election officials open the process to public observation, but I am very concerned about calls for “accreditation”, as such requirements can just serve to block legitimate observers and scholars from being able to see the inner workings of the election administration process. Caution here is warrented, as we certainly do not want to make it more difficult for independent and external election observation. (If you want to see some of the product of our election observation efforts, still unfortunately unpublished, see the many pictures and material we collected simply by observing the 2005 Los Angeles Mayoral Election, for which we needed no advanced accreditation.)

Third, as noted in an earlier post, the word in Washington is that the prospects for federal action on election reform is pretty bleak, certainly in the near future. Good news on this front is that the Knight Foundation (who sponsors the work of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project) has recently awarded an $800,000 four-year grant to The Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute “to monitor the implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and develop a bipartisan policy agenda for futher administration reform … Brookings and AEI plan a collaborative effort extending through the 2008 elections to synthesize research; develop a bipartisan, practical national policy for election reform; monitor the implementation of HAVA and its proposed amendments; and ensure that research and policy recommendations are fed into the policy process in a timely and productive manner.” We are looking forward to working with these folks (Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein?) on this ambitious agenda, but it is going to be a difficult struggle to get election reform to become part of the federal agenda in the coming years.

Last, for the record, in addition to testifying before the Commission’s during their hearings at Rice, I also was an “Academic Advisor” to the Commission.