Government professor serves on presidential commission to make voting easier

Leila Ruiz

In response to a Presidential Executive Order calling for an expert committee  to improve the voting prowess for citizens, government professor Daron Shaw surveyed local election officials throughout the U.S. last fall to better understand the challenges and successes encountered in past elections.

In March 2013, President Barack Obama called for the creation of a Presidential Commission on Election Administration, made up of lawyers, businessmen and professors from across the U.S.

In conducting his survey, Shaw said one of the biggest challenges he faced was trying to gain the contact information for thousands of local election officials. Once they had done that, Shaw and his team emailed and faxed the more than 7,700 local elections officials for whom they had contact information. The officials’ responses were amalgamated to discover inefficiencies in the overall election process.

“Local election officials mentioned several [challenges they faced],” Shaw said in an email. “Most common were the availability of poll workers — 18 percent said it was a “concern” in 2012 — and voter education — 13 percent.”

In the commission’s report, which was presented to Obama in January, the commission recommended no voter have to wait longer than 30 minutes to cast their vote. To counter long lines, the commission suggested improvements such as expanding online voter registration and early voting periods, using new technology to more efficiently operate polling places and mandating better communication of registered voter lists between states.

Christian Chanter , a radio-television-film and government sophomore, said he was deterred from voting in the 2012 presidential elections because of long lines at the Flawn Academic Center.  

“I even went … and saw the line, and I didn’t want to wait for two hours to spend two minutes to vote,” Chanter said.

Chanter said he had registered and was excited to vote in his first presidential election but ultimately didn’t have the extra time to spend in line.

According to research from the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life, 61.6 percent of voting-eligible Texans reported being registered to vote in 2012, ranking Texas the 42nd state in national rankings of eligible citizens registered to vote. Voters aged 18-29, a demographic that includes the majority of University students, had some of the lowest voter turn outs in 2010, with 16.1 percent voting.

Grant Wiles, a government sophomore and campus field director for Students4Wendy, a student organization in support of Democratic candidate for governor, Wendy Davis, which holds voter registration drives twice a week, said factors such as not being registered in time due to lack of awareness could prevent students from voting.

“[Students] might not know how important their vote is,” Wiles said. “They can really make a difference.”