Correction: An earlier version of the story misstated the date of the government shutdown in October.
(USA TODAY) - States can end long lines at polls on Election Day by expanding early voting, increasing online voter registration and checking their voter registration lists against those of other states, a bipartisan federal commission said Wednesday.
The Presidential Commission on Election Administration was convened by President Obama after his re-election and headed by the top lawyers for his campaign and that of Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Lines at some polling places were so long on Election Day 2012 that people were still waiting to vote when Obama gave his victory speech that night, prompting the re-elected president to ad lib, "We've got to fix that.'' More than 5 million people waited more than an hour to vote in 2012, according to the commission. Similarly long lines occurred in 2008 and 2004.
"Our democracy demands that our citizens participate in a smooth and effective way," Obama said Wednesday as he received the report. "We could have even more problems in the future if we don't act now.''
The commission set 30 minutes as a benchmark for poll waiting times. "No voter should have to wait more than half an hour in order to have an opportunity to vote,'' the report said.
The recommendations arrived a week after Congress unveiled legislation that would make fixes to the Voting Rights Act, parts of which were struck down by the Supreme Court last year. Rival party election lawyers were at its head, so the commission did not address controversial issues such as recent state laws requiring voter identification - criticized by opponents as partisan measures to suppress minority and low-income voting.
Instead, it focused on what commission members said were measures that would have the greatest impact on making elections run more smoothly.
Improving the accuracy of voter registration rolls is critical to keeping lines short, the commission said. Online voter registration, offered in 24 states, would eliminate some of the inaccuracies that cause problems. As many as 15% of voter registrations may be inaccurate in some states, according to the commission.
The report calls for increased use of early voting, whether in person or by mail, as an effective way to reduce congestion at polls on Election Day. Some states, including North Carolina, have cut early voting hours as part of new voter identification laws.
"There are millions of voters whose experience could be different and better if these recommendations are adopted,'' Bob Bauer, the Democratic election lawyer who co-chaired the commission, said Wednesday.
The report highlights what it calls "an impending crisis'' as voting machines, purchased with federal funds after the 2000 Florida presidential recount, wear out and need to be replaced. There is no plan for a new round of federal funding. What's more, the development of voting machine technology has lagged, so election officials don't want to buy available machines even if they had the money, the commission says.
"That is going to be a problem greater than what we swore after Florida was never going to happen again,'' Ben Ginsberg, the Republican co-chair, said Wednesday.
The commission encourages the use of schools as polling places, though communities have been increasingly reluctant to allow this because of security worries. Schools tend to be centrally located and are easily accessible; the commission suggests students should be given the day off to address security concerns. About one-third of polling places are in schools.
The report shows that problems at polling places "are identifiable and solvable. This isn't partisan. This is administrative,'' says Wendy Weiser, an elections expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. "That is a huge step forward in and of itself. Any time people have been talking about improving the system and making it work - a system that has been so visibly ailing and aging and fraying - it's gotten mired in partisan politics.''
Contributing: David Jackson.