Independents Engage the Presidential Commission on Election Administration

In early June, President Obama followed up on a State of the Union promise and appointed a Commission on Election Administration.

Unfortunately, the president’s definition of “nonpartisan” was distorted by the culture of partisanship that so permeates Washington. The Commission is co-chaired by Robert Bauer and Benjamin Ginsberg, longtime Democratic and Republican Party insiders.

And, in a classic example of bipartisan collusion, the president’s executive order was amended to change the number of Commissioners from nine to ten, effectively granting veto power to both parties.

It gets worse. Before the Commission held its first meeting, its agenda was already set. Rather than using the opportunity to explore the myriad of ways the political experience has been tainted for so many Americans, the Commission announced it would only be addressing the most technical and mundane of Election Day concerns, such as the issuing of provisional ballots and reducing wait times at poll stations.

Despite the obvious limitations of the commission, independent activists have launched a campaign to push the commission to broaden its scope and recognize the concerns of independent voters.

Jackie Salit, president of Independentvoting.org, sent a letter to the commission which they posted on their website:

“Independent voters are repeatedly given second class status. We have previously asked Congress to consider these problems, to no avail. I hope the Commission, operating at the behest of the President, will take a more enlightened and nonpartisan view of us. We want to be a vital part of our democratic process and we have every right to be fully included.”

One hundred (and counting) independent activists and organization builders in all fifty states have signed a letter informing the commission that “independents are not accorded the same courtesies and privileges as members of political parties, such as receiving mailed ballots at home or having the right to serve as poll workers on Election Day.”

“During primary season, where some states permit us to vote, we come face to face with poll workers who do not understand their own rules and frequently misinform us about our voting rights. We have no representation on the Federal Elections Commission or Boards of Elections, and are often required to register to vote as ‘unenrolled’ or ‘undeclared’ voters, not as the independents that we are. In many states, we are barred from primary voting altogether, even though we – as taxpayers – finance those closed party primaries.”

Steve Richardson, co-founder of the Virginia Independent Voters Association, formed a committee to monitor the Commission and mobilize independents to attend their public hearings in Florida (June 28), Denver (August 8), Philadelphia (September 4), and Ohio (September 20). Next week, at the the hearing in Denver, Catana Barnes, founder of Independent Voters of Nevada and Sarah Lyons, Communications Director of Independentvoting.org, will be joining local independent activists to speak at the hearings.

Independents are not naïve. We know when the partisan fix is in. We’ve been face-to-face with the Federal Election Commission and the Commission on Presidential Debates, two bipartisan institutions designed to limit the access and influence of independents.

We’re not lobbying the commission with any illusions that they are going to do anything meaningful. But, that in fact makes the process all the more interesting. When a growing force (independents) meets an immovable object (partisan control), who knows what sparks will fly!