A polling sign in Los Angeles, Nov. 6, 2012. (David McNew/Getty Images)
A White House commission tasked with making voting improvements after lengthy wait times were reported in the 2012 election is hitting the road.
The president's Commission on Election Administration, which met for the first time on Friday, announced it will hold upcoming hearings in four states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio.
Co-chair Bob Bauer, President Barack Obama's former counsel, said they will hold "a public meetings process around the country that enables us to hear from election officials, from experts and from citizens in affected communities about the voting experience and their perspective on the issues they should be covering." Bauer and co-chair Ben Ginsberg, former counsel for Mitt Romney, invited election experts and members of the public to participate.
"Please help us to ferret out the information we need," Bauer said.
Hearing specifics are still slim. Known so far: They are scheduled for June 28 at the University of Miami, Aug. 8 in Denver, Sept. 4 in Philadelphia and Sept. 20 somewhere in Ohio.
The commission—which has 10 members chosen by the White House—was first publicly announced by Obama in his State of the Union address, during which he expressed concern about long wait times at the polls in 2012. The commission is tasked with presenting recommendations in six months to the president to improve voting, specifically focusing on members of the military, overseas voters, voters with disabilities and voters with limited English proficiency. It will also look at the training of polling workers, the operation of polling places and voting machines, and ballot design per the president's executive order, which included a long list of other potential areas of study.
Columbia Law School professor Nathan Persily, who is on the committee and presented research on Friday, emphasized during his presentation the necessity of the public hearings.
"It will be one of the main ways we interact with the public," Persily said, adding that voters will "plug holes where we don't have research."
After the hearing, Bauer told Yahoo News that he believes the commission will serve to change the historically typical ebb and flow of election interest.
"There's always this problem we have in this country that elections take place and then they kind of fade away," he said. "What I think the president's hoping to accomplish here is to have a very focused discussion that's well-informed and enabled to be national in scope, and to have recommendations presented to him that will really be helpful to election administrators around the country."
Costs for the commission will be handled by the the U.S. General Services Administration. No money was requested in the president’s proposal or in GSA’s budget request. Steve Croley, deputy White House counsel, told Yahoo News in late April that the commission is expected to have a very low budget.
Ginsberg—whose inclusion along with Bauer's is designed to send a clear bipartisan message—said on Friday he was "flattered" to be asked to be part of the commission and expressed hope they could make a difference in voting in America.
"I hope we can make a difference in correcting these things that Republicans and Democrats agree really are issues," Bauer said.
The co-chairs on Friday readily conceded they have a large challenge before them related both to the scope of their task as well as logistically given the short time frame and a commission staffed by volunteers. But they expressed hope the CEA wouldn't join the list of past commissions criticized for their ineffectiveness.
"It's a challenge, but everyone's interested in the issue so we're all willing to work hard for the discrete time period we have," Ginsberg said.
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