Carter-Baker Commission

Headed by former Pres Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A Baker III in early 2005 to discuss federal election reform. After looking at the situation, they made 86 recommendations, about 2/3 of which have been implemented to some degree. A few relating to voter registration, as well as the progress made, will be listed below. You can find more here

Recommendation: States should establish unified, top-down voter registration systems (in which local election authorities supply information to a unified database maintained by the state).

Actual: The majority of state voter databases (38) are top-down; there are 9 bottom-up systems; 2 hybrid; and North Dakota does not have a voter registration list.

Recommendation: Voters should be informed of their right to cast a provisional ballot if their name is not on the rolls. States should inform voters about the location of their precinct and establish uniform procedures for the verification and counting of provisional ballots.

Actual: Some states educate voters about the use of provisional ballots, but most states have not established uniform procedures for the verification and counting of provisional ballots.

Recommendation: State and local governments should utilize websites, toll-free numbers, and other communication tools to help inform citizens about their registration status and location of their precinct.

Actual: There are a number of national websites available now to answer citizens’ registration and voting questions.

Recommendation: All states should take action to maintain accurate lists by matching death records, driver’s licenses, tax rolls, felon records, etc.
Actual: Many states have worked towards this goal, using diverse approaches, but a few states have stated that they do not plan to attempt to follow the recommendation.

Clearly, the disparity of approaches presents a significant barrier to achieving universal voter registration. A national approach similar to the Carter-Baker commission, but with more enforcement power, seems like the most efficient means to attain universal voter registration.

However, the implementation of such an approach is necessarily riddled with obstacles. Similar to the difficulties faced by advocates of the National Voter Registration Act, proponents of the federal legislation approach will have to contend with a number of barriers. A notable one is the issue of federalism, which is still sacred to the hearts of many politicians. They believe that states have the right to run their own elections, determine their own suffrage laws, and create their own registration practices.