Reducing the Burdens to Voting?

I didn’t watch the speech last night. Being in Britain, I was busy sleeping. Indeed, I barely made it through all of Celtic v Juventus, regretfully. Buried towards the end of the speech, at about 51 minutes in, is the initiative to address voting barriers:

In another sign of the election’s lingering shadow, Mr. Obama was creating a bipartisan commission to investigate voting irregularities that led to long lines at polling sites in November. Studies indicate that these lines cost Democrats hundreds of thousands of votes. The commission will be led by the chief counsel of the Obama presidential campaign, Robert Bauer, and a legal adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign, Ben Ginsberg.

To quote the speech:

Defending our freedom, though, is not just the job of our military alone. We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes one of the most fundamental rights of a democracy, the right to vote. Now, when — when any American, no matter where they live or what their party, are denied that right because they can’t afford to wait for five or six or seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. So — so tonight I’m announcing a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And it definitely needs improvement. I’m asking two longtime experts in the field — who, by the way, recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign — to lead it. We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it, and so does our democracy.

I’m not sure that voting is a “God-given right”; if it is, then He has some work to do regarding the fair representation of His flock, given that the geographic distribution of Cardinal electors in the College of Cardinals makes the malapportionment of the Electoral College appear insignificant in comparison. However it is certainly “one of the most”, if not the most, fundamental rights of a democracy by definition. It doesn’t take a political scientist to figure out that no voting means no democracy.

My sense is that setting up a commission to study a problem is a death warrant (but I’m happy to be shown to be wrong). A brief history since 2000 on such voting commissions certainly does not inspire confidence in fundamental progressive reform, and over at the Election Law Blog the best we can hope for appears to be “modest” pragmatic recommendations. See also this story outlining some Republican Senatorial opposition to the commission, but not for that bit of predictable obvious; rather, for the excellent Senator Ted Cruz quotes.

This reminded me of a piece in The Nation that I meant to discuss last week, before my day job inconveniently intruded, which responded to the stories in the NYT last week about the effect long lines and waiting times might have had on the Democratic share of the vote. It correctly points out that the overwhelming majority of election law is conducted at state level, and barring the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments and the VRA:

There is no federal right to vote for Congress to guarantee. I’d be glad to be corrected, but as best I can tell, that means that technically, in almost every case, a state can make it as hard as it wants for its citizens to vote, and there’s practically nothing DC can do about it.

The proposed solution is the Right to Vote Amendment, proposed by then-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., which “would solve every last one of our voting problems. (I bet, although you’d have to ask a constitutional lawyer, it would even cover our gerrymandering problem . . .”.  The thing is, it wouldn’t, nor would it address gerrymandering:

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