This month marks the 15th anniversary of Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court case that settled the 2000 election while laying bare some major problems in our election system. Since then, we've made real progress in reforming our elections to make sure every vote is counted and every voice is heard. As we prepare to enter a new election year, much remains undone however.
In response to Bush v. Gore, and to improve and standardize voting systems nationwide, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002. Numerous states have done even more to improve and modernize election procedures, including providing online voter registration and expanding early voting periods for Election Day. Oregon recently made history by passing a "Motor Voter" law in which eligible citizens are automatically registered through transactions with Department of Motor Vehicle offices. California quickly followed suit with a comparable law, and the rest of the country is feeding off this momentum.
Innovative ideas for elections administration are leading this country in the right direction. But the confusion and long lines at hundreds of polling places in 2012 provided a stark reminder of the challenges that remain to ensuring that every eligible American can cast a ballot and have it counted. To tackle that job, President Obama in 2013 created the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA), a bipartisan panel led by Robert Bauer, the former White House Counsel under President Obama and General Counsel of the Democratic National Committee, and Benjamin Ginsberg, the top attorney in George W. Bush's and Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns.
The Commission's 19 recommendations included online voter registration, poll worker training standards, auditing of polling place locations to ensure accessibility, and the use of voting machines that provide a paper trail so that vote counts can be verified after each election. The panel also urged that bilingual poll workers be provided in areas with a significant number of non-English speaking voters, and backed an expansion of early voting periods before Election Day.
An October 2014 Common Cause report - "Did We Fix That?" - found that many "swing" states had adopted only some of the Commission's 19 recommendations. Colorado's election administration has made the most progress toward meeting the PCEA recommendations, the report concluded, but all of the states have additional work to do.
Voting is one of those things that unites us as Americans. Even with the progress made over the last 15 years to ensure voting in the U.S. is convenient and votes are accurately counted, there is more to be done. While Common Cause and its allies continue to press states and municipalities to enact all the 19 recommendations proposed by President Obama's bipartisan election commission - and take on additional innovative reform - the most important thing every American voter can do to ensure a strong democracy is to get registered and vote.
It's simple: when more people vote, our democracy is more representative and reflective of who we are as a nation. It takes all of that to make that happen.