December 15, 2008
Sen. Schumer To Take Over Chairmanship of Senate Rules Committee; Big Shoes to Fill in Election Administration Reform
This news was expected. He takes over for Senator Feinstein, who as Chair of the committee very strongly pushed for sensible election reform measures, including electronic disclosure in the Senate. She also explored important questions about the primary process and the role of the DOJ in pursuing voter fraud allegations. But she did so without being a strong partisan.
With Sen. Feinstein moving to chair intelligence, and President-elect Obama, and Sec. of State-designate Clinton no longer in the Senate to push election reform measures, the impetus on the Democratic side for election reform will have to come from somewhere else. Hopefully Senator Schumer will be able to pursue the important questions aggressively and fairly, following in Sen. Feinstein's footsteps. But some Republicans have already expressed concerns about Sen. Schumer, given his earlier role as head of the DSCC. I hope people will give Senator Schumer the benefit of the doubt.
It is also possible that other Democrats could step up to the plate, including Senator Feingold and Senator Dodd, who was instrumental in passing HAVA (Dodd, though, has a full plate with banking issues). Or it could be that much of the impetus comes from the White House itself, which has its first adjunct professor of election law as a Chief Executive.
There's plenty to tackle in election administration reform as things go forward. While there are many good ideas, at the top of my list are (1) HAVA fixes dealing with counting provisional ballots and correcting database "mismatches;" (2) voter registration reform, especially dealing with third party registration efforts; (3) important enfranchisement changes, including those dealing with overseas and military voters, and the counting of absentee ballots (as we are learning from the Minnesota Senate recount); (4) electronic disclosure in the Senate; (5) rethinking the use of presidential caucuses and (6) rethinking public financing of presidential election campaigns. It will be important for Democrats to work with Republicans to get important change that doesn't---and doesn't appear to be---for partisan advantage.