Ellen Kaplan delivered a blunt message Wednesday to members of a presidential blue-ribbon panel on election reform.
The 2012 vote in Philadelphia was a "national embarrassment" spoiled by massive confusion, partisanship, and mismanagement, said Kaplan, policy director of the watchdog group Committee of Seventy.
She pointed to numbers such as the 26,986 provisional ballots cast, more than 12,000 of them by registered voters who should have been allowed to use voting machines, and almost 100 Republican poll inspectors who "were not permitted to sit" by their Democratic counterparts and had to get court orders.
"Perhaps," she added, in what could be a touch of overstatement, "the worst-run election in the city's history."
Kaplan was one in a parade of election experts, academics, and activists who addressed the Presidential Commission on Election Administration during a day-long hearing at the Convention Center.
The bipartisan panel, created by President Obama in March, is charged with recommending federal reforms to confront voting issues that resulted in long lines and other hurdles at polls across the country.
Having already hosted meetings in Washington, D.C., Colorado, and Florida, the panel focused on training of poll workers, problems with voting machines, voter data management, overseas and military voting concerns, and ballot clarity - all of which, critics say, disproportionately affected poor and minority voters in the last election.
After a final hearing in Ohio, the panel is to make its recommendations by December.
"Hopefully, we are going to be in position, as the president asked us to do, to make recommendations that are going to be effective around the country," said Robert Bauer, Obama's former White House counsel, who serves as cochairman of the 10-member panel with Benjamin Ginsberg, who was counsel to the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign.
The panel received plenty of suggestions.
Kaplan voiced support for early voting, expedited registration, and revamped redistricting. While she noted that such changes depend on state action - and said that in Philadelphia, they would be akin to "adding a GPS to a broken-down Model T Ford - she stressed that the panel could provide a "set of standards."
State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D., Phila.) said the state spent $6 million on its voter ID law that could have been better spent on election efficiency and poll-worker training. Enforcement of the controversial 2012 law awaits the outcome of a prolonged court fight.
City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who helps run elections, asked the panel to ensure that local officials are involved at "every stage" of reform discussions.
She also called for better pay for poll workers, who often earn less than minimum wage, and for a federal honor for them - perhaps a White House invitation for each state's longest-serving poll worker.