A report by a presidential panel on ways to improve how this nation conducts elections served as a reminder that voting is indispensable to the democratic process. It's a right not to be trifled with by those who presume to decide who gets to vote and who doesn't, whether for naked partisan advantage or in some misguided effort to combat relatively rare voter fraud.

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration made its recommendations recently in a 112-page report to President Obama. Led by Washington attorneys, Robert F. Bauer, a Democrat, and Benjamin L. Ginsburg, a Republican, the commission offers a sensible package of reforms to improve a confusing, outmoded system, even as it provides a tool for citizens fighting for their rights against politicians - in Texas and elsewhere - determined to disenfranchise them.

On the sensible side, the commission declared that no one should have to wait more than 30 minutes to vote and endorsed online voter registration and early voting, practices that some Republicans have sought to curtail. The commission also warned of an "impending crisis" as electronic voting machines age.

The commission made a conscious effort to avoid such contentious issues as voter fraud or suppression, voter ID laws or protection for minorities in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down a portion of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. Still, many of the panel's recommendations were an implicit refutation of those around the country who have been trying, with notable success, to disenfranchise voters.

The commission concluded that voter fraud is "rare, but when it does occur, absentee ballots are often the method of choice." Election officials in Texas and elsewhere need to heed a commission warning about aging electronic voting machines that are about to wear out. Unfortunately, Congress has not appropriated money to buy new machines.

—Houston Chronicle, Feb. 7

Athletes should be the real stars of the Winter Olympics

If you're weary of all the buildup to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia - the bare-chested president Vladimir Putin, athletes' odd-looking uniforms, computer hacking, potential terrorist attacks, blatant discrimination against gay people and, now breaking, journalists unhappy with their Third World hotel rooms - here's much more positive news.

The first competition in the Games started Thursday in Sochi, and the Opening Ceremony will be Friday.

After all the recent controversies, this is, we can hope, when much of the narrative tilts positively toward what the athletes are accomplishing.

Thanks to live television, plus tape-delayed broadcasts in prime time, Americans could witness some amazing performances until the Olympics end on Feb. 23.

Don't worry if the names of the U.S. athletes aren't familiar; they seldom are for many winter sports. But the events still ought to attract large audiences.

The figure skating competition will be elegant, the downhill skiing fast and furious, the bobsledding medalists decided by the hundredths of a second, the snowboarding ridiculously perilous and the cross country skiing an endurance test for the ages.

More than likely, we'll still hear about Russian corruption, cost overruns at the Olympic venues and various protests during the next few weeks. These stories also deserve attention.

But as so often happens at the Olympics - and often out of nowhere - athletes will put their own stamp on the Games with some brilliant performances on the ice or snow.

Thousands of talented women and men will be competing fiercely to win gold, silver and bronze medals in Sochi, many after training a lifetime to get there. This is their time to shine.

—The Kansas City Star, Feb. 6