Penn alum to lead national election commission


1974 College grad Benjamin Ginsberg has played a role in every election since 2000




Two Penn undergraduate students took the train to Washington, D.C., in November 1972 to report on the presidential election for The Daily Pennsylvanian.

One of the students covered George McGovern’s election night party. The other reported on Richard Nixon’s.

At the time, neither student was aware of the successful careers they would have in the future. However, for the student who covered the Nixon election night party — former DP Editor in Chief and 1974 College graduate Benjamin Ginsberg — this was not the last time he would interact with a U.S. president.

Shortly after the 2013 State of the Union address, it was announced that Ginsberg would lead a committee on voting reform created by President Barack Obama.

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In his Feb. 12 State of the Union address, President Obama mentioned voting issues across America in the 2012 election as one of his key concerns.

“When any Americans — no matter where they live or what their party — are denied [the right to vote] because they can’t to wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals,” Obama proclaimed in his speech.

In order to address these problems, he created a bipartisan voting commission headed by lawyers from both the Obama and Romney campaigns.

The attorneys he chose to head the commission were Bob Bauer and Ginsberg, from the Obama and Romney campaigns, respectively.

Before his appointment to Obama’s new voting commission, Ginsberg — who declined to comment for the story because he is not interviewing with the press at this time — served as national counsel to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004, and played a central role in the 2000 Florida recount case Bush v. Gore. He also worked for the 2008 and 2012 Romney presidential campaigns.

Ginsberg has been an attorney at Patton Boggs LLP since 1993, after serving as counsel to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional and Senatorial committees. As a partner at Patton Boggs, he advises clients on issues of election law, particularly “those involving federal and state campaign finance laws, ethics rules, redistricting, communications law and election recounts and contests,” according to the company’s website.

Many noted the importance of the decision to appoint Ginsberg to this commission, especially due to his previous work in this field.

College sophomore and Penn Democrats president Matthew Kalmans called Ginsberg’s appointment “tremendously symbolic.”

“But what’s more significant is that [Obama] didn’t just pick a moderate Republican [to head the committee],” he added, citing Ginsberg’s work in the 2000 recount case.

“I know he’s been controversial [in the past], but it’s a good move on Obama’s part,” College sophomore and Political Director of College Republicans Anthony Cruz said.

He added that having Ginsberg on the commission would add a valuable viewpoint to the deliberations.

1976 College graduate and partner at Patton Boggs Mitchell Berger, who was Ginsberg’s successor as the DP’s top editor, said in an email that “[Ginsberg] is one of the fairest people I know, regardless of political affiliation.”

Kalmans hopes, though, that Ginsberg’s political status as a top Republican “will give more significance to the recommendations made by the committee.”

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The committee, however, has yet to make any proposals.

Law professor Kermit Roosevelt said in an email that long lines at the polling stations are something that Obama said would be discussed by the commission, but that it will most likely “consider anything that burdens the right to vote.”

He added that the commission might consider voter identification laws like the one in Pennsylvania that has been temporarily suspended until the July 15 trial.

Political science professor Rogers Smith agreed that the commission will likely examine issues of this matter.

Smith said in an email that the commission will also “be concerned about voting registration requirements more generally, ex-felon disfranchisement, partisan districting and questions of whether the Voting Rights Act should be altered in light of changing conditions.”

However, Smith and Roosevelt were skeptical of what the commission may decide and what legislation may be enacted as a result.

“If a bipartisan commission says that these laws serve no useful purpose and deter legal voters, that might make repeal more likely,” Roosevelt said. “But I’m not holding my breath.”

Smith added that “it’s too soon to say more” but “if their recommendations result in federal legislation, a very big ‘if,’ those laws might well result in changes in the laws in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.”

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For former DP Managing Editor Michael Silver — the student who reported on the McGovern election night party in 1972 — much has also changed since his time at Penn. He now lives in Chicago and during the 2012 election, volunteered at a phone bank at the Obama Campaign National Headquarters.

Although he hasn’t spoken much to Ginsberg over the past 40 years besides catching up at social events, when he heard that Ginsberg would be chairing the commission on voting reform he knew that Obama had chosen the right man.

“I was absolutely delighted that a Republican I know and trust would be heading this commission,” he said.

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