POLITICS
02/13/2013 06:14 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2013

On State Of The Union Voting Commission Proposal, State Lawmakers Divide Along Party Lines

State lawmakers' reactions to President Barack Obama's announcement Tuesday night of a new bipartisan voting commission split along party lines.

The announcement of the election commission during the State of the Union address was greeted positively by Democratic state lawmakers, who see the panel as a way to generate ideas to improve state and local election administration. However, Republicans said the panel violates the 10th Amendment, noting that elections are a function of state government and not a place for federal officials.

Obama announced that the commission, to be co-chaired by top attorneys from his and Mitt Romney's 2012 campaigns, would develop "common-sense, non-partisan solutions" to reduce wait times and improve voting experiences.

"I commend the president for convening a nonpartisan commission to review our election procedures," North Dakota Assistant House Minority Leader Corey Mock (D-Grand Forks) told The Huffington Post. "It is a fine use of time and resources. That is something that all Americans should be proud of."

But Wyoming state Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) told HuffPost that there's no need for such a commission. Standing by the federalism argument, he said the federal government has "enough of their own problems to worry about" and that election policy is a state-level issue.

"Each state is responsible for their voting procedures, and I don't believe a national commission is needed to make recommendations to states," he said.

Zwonitzer noted that each state knows its history of election administration and what works in its environment. Elections in Wyoming have worked well and would not need recommendations from a federal commission, he said. At the same time, states that have had long lines and other problems could develop solutions, he said.

Kansas state Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) agrees with Zwonitzer on the need for solutions at the state level. Claeys, who unsuccessfully ran for Kansas secretary of state in 2010, noted that he would like to see states share best practices on election administration, but not through an Obama-appointed panel.

"There are a number of ways we can improve voting processes without a blanket solution around the country," Claeys told HuffPost. "There are some states that prefer voter ID and some don't see it as an issue. Personally, I think in Kansas we have a great voter ID law and voter ID did not impede the process. Voter ID makes the process more transparent and free of human error."

Mock and Montana state Rep. Bryce Bennett (D-Missoula) disagree, saying that there are too many stories of people standing in line for hours to vote. Bennett, who led his party's election policy efforts, stressed that there is a role for the federal government in election administration. Obama's commission could help gather ideas from state and county officials nationally in order to develop ideas and help end "voter suppression," he said.

"I would see this as an opportunity for folks at the federal level to work with state leaders and get information from the folks on the ground, including county clerks," Bennett told HuffPost. "We need to take input from everywhere. We need to do something. There are too many roadblocks for people to vote. This is a pressing issue. This is the core of everything we do as a democracy."

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