Response to the Report of the 2005 Commission on Federal Election Reform

September 19, 2005

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On September 19, 2005, the Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker III, issued a report with recommendations for reforming the administration of U.S. elections. Unfortunately, the Commission did so after only two limited hearings and no call for public comment. The Commissions final report betrays the cursory nature of its study, proceeding in places based on anecdote and supposition, rather than on rigorous analysis and empirical fact. As a result, although a number of its recommendations could improve our electoral system, several of its suggestions would be damaging and should not be included in any proposal for election reform.

Election reform should seek to ensure that every eligible American citizen has a meaningful opportunity to participate in a fair political process. If that opportunity is to be restricted, it must be absolutely clear that the benefits of such a restriction outweigh its costs. The sections of the Commissions report addressed in this paper depart from this fundamental standard.

This paper addresses the main substantive flaws in the Report, refuting in detail its recommendations that Real ID cards be used for voter identification, that Social Security numbers be spread through interstate databases and on ID cards, and that states restore voting rights to people convicted of felony convictions only in certain cases and only after they have completed all the terms of their sentence. These recommendations are ill-advised and should not set the standard for election reform in the states.