WASHINGTON — Robert Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, two of the nation’s pre-eminent election lawyers, have long been on opposing sides of legal arguments. In the fall they were quarreling over voter registration, early voting laws and how the debates should be staged between their respective clients, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
But for the next six months they will be working side by side on a new presidential commission, surveying election officials and customer service specialists — possibly from theme parks and other crowded places — to find ways to streamline how Americans cast their ballots and reduce the long lines that kept hundreds of thousands of people from voting in November.
The president, in announcing the commission during his State of the Union address Tuesday, noted that the presence of Ginsberg, a longtime Republican, would lend credibility and move beyond party politics to ensure its bipartisan nature.
Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to the president, said the timing of the effort will also help.
Yet since elections are governed by a patchwork of local laws, improvements to voting problems will likely rise or fall on action in state legislatures or county governments rather than in Congress or recommendations by a presidential commission.
Several groups that study the voting system applauded the White House for highlighting the issue, but some critics expressed skepticism that improvements would be made simply because of a presidential commission.
“We have long lines at the polls every four years. It’s not new," said Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters. “Sending this to a commission is not a bold step."
The president, who has sought to draw attention to voters waiting hours to cast ballots in November, said he created the commission “to improve the voting experience in America."
The White House will also name five other people to the commission, aides said.
Bauer and Ginsberg declined to comment about the commission, saying they wanted to get their work under way first. But associates of both men said they were committed to setting aside their partisan arguments to find common ground on voting problems that affect Republican and Democratic candidates alike.
“The idea here is to help people administer their elections better," Pfeiffer said. “There is a whole set of ideological partisan issues around voting, but on the very specific questions of the administration of elections, that is something that you would hope and believe Republicans and Democrats would want to solve."