March 11, 2007

Some Thoughts on the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Conference

I just returned from a very interesting conference in Washington on election reform, sponsored by the AEI-Brookings Election Reform Project. There's a good wrap up of the two panels and keynote speech here at Rick Sincere's blog (I hope people don't think of my blog as the Rick Insincere blog!). See also four March 10 posts here from Andrew MacRae. A webcast should be available some time soon.

A few brief observations:
(1) I was on the first panel with EAC Commissioner Gracia Hillman and Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita. It was a good, substantive discussion ably moderated by AEI's John Fortier, but I must say that both of the other panelists were much more sanguine about how well Election 2006 went, and about how much progress election reform has made. You can see my few slides from the presentation here. I'm writing a more academic piece about the state of election reform that I hope to get out soon. One example of the disconnect betweem the comments of the other panelists and the reality: Secretary of State Rokita repeatedly praised the work of Commissioner Hillman and the EAC. Yet at the end of the presentation, I asked the last question, following up on a Tom Mann question, to Sec. Rokita, stating how pleased I was to hear Sec. Rokitas praise of the EAC, and asking about whether the National Association of Secretaries of State would consider rescinding the (in my view, unfortunate) resolution NASS passed calling on Congress to abolish the EAC. The answer was a one-word "No," with no explanation. Like much else that came out during the day, the answer was a source of disappointment.

(2) The keynote address was given by U.S. Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-Michigan), the ranking member of the Committee on House Administration. Rep. Ehlers focused mostly on the FL-13 race, and said something like (and I'm paraphrasing here) that it appears very much like the Republican Vern Buchanan had won the race. Rep. Ehlers seemed quite convinced that he cause of the tremendous undervote was voter error caused by ballot design. During the question and comment period, Sam Hirsch, a lawyer for Democrat Christine Jennings (the other person in the FL-13 race) said that the Rep.'s remarks were improper, because there was a pending contest of the election before the committee, and in such proceedings the House stood as a quasi-judicial body. Rep. Ehlers apologized if it appeared he had prejudged the case. It was a very interesting exchange, worth watching when the webcast goes up.

(3) The third panel, made up of no elections officials (Doug Chapin of Electionline, Tom Mann of Brookings, Zach Goldfarb of the Washington Post, and Norm Ornstein of AEI) sounded a much more pessimistic note than the eletion officials on the first panel. There was much discussion of the problem of getting the media interested in doing substantive, as opposed to crisis, election reform coverage. The panelists all seemed to agree that getting meaningful election reform out of this Congress was going to be a tall task, especially given how some of the sponsors of the bills are presidential contenders, and may be using the bills to get some mileage with party faithful out of their proposals.

All in all, very good, very substantive, but very depressing discussion all around.

Posted by Rick Hasen at March 11, 2007 07:18 PM