On June 27, 1959, voters in Hawaii ratified a congressional bill making Hawaii the 50th state in the union. “Yes For Statehood” took 94.3 percent of the vote and in August of the same year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a proclamation to make it official.
Since then, Hawaii has held elections in every even-numbered year. The state has a primary on the second Saturday in August and a general election on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Hawaii has also held special elections due to deaths and resignations of officials.
Hawaii elects six individuals for federal positions: the President, Vice President, two members of the U.S. Senate and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives. This gives the state a total of four electoral votes. You can read more about Hawaii’s federal representation here
For state elections, the office of Governor, Lt. Governor, Senate and House seats are on the ballot. Trustees for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs are also elected.
A 1978 amendment to the state Constitution says, “Any elected public officer shall resign from that office before being eligible as a candidate for another public office, if the term of the office sought begins before the end of the term of the office held.”
There are four counties in Hawaii: the City and County of Honolulu, the County of Hawaii, the County of Kauai, and the County of Maui. For each, the office of mayor and council members are on the ballot.
Hawaii elections have historically seen low voter turnout and state officials continue to look for ways to boost voter participation.
Hawaii elections are headed by a chief election officer. The chief election officer is appointed by an Elections Commission, which consists of eight members and a chairperson. Hawaii differs from most states in that it doesn’t have a secretary of state, who usually supervises the election process. Alaska and Utah are the only other states without a secretary of state.
The chief election officer has a series of obligations to fulfill prior to, during and after an election. The most important of these duties is the registration of voters. Chief election officers are instructed to, “Make an effort to equalize registration between districts, with particular effort in those districts in which the chief election officer determines registration is lower than desirable.” Among their other duties, chief election officers must also keep statistics regarding voters, elections and districting. They are responsible for all public education on voter information and act as the engine for every Hawaii election.
Voters have been able to register online in Hawaii since 2014. You can register online here.
In 2018 the Legislature approved a pilot program on Kauai that could move the entire state to all-mail voting in the future. More than half the ballots cast in Hawaii in recent years have been sent in through the mail as absentee votes, which is already allowed under state law.
The Office of Elections in Honolulu is the home of the chief election officer. The office has a full-time staff as well as seasonal employees.
In Hawaii, voters do not have to pick a party when they register. This means that voters can choose which primary to participate in. However, they may only vote in one primary and not switch between parties for various offices.
Hawaii requires that candidates for statewide and federal offices obtain signatures from 25 registered voters and pay a filing fee to get on the ballot. County elective positions and seats in the Hawaii Legislature require 15 signatures and a filing fee. Filing fees vary depending on the office sought.
Hawaii election law makes it difficult for nonpartisan or independent candidates to move on to the general election. They must secure 10 percent of the total votes cast in all primaries for their race or secure as many votes as one of the nominated party candidates.
On Election Day, Hawaii is split into more than 200 precincts that report back to a central location. Precincts count each ballot cast and record the number for a collection team. Polling places open at 7 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. on the day of the election. To find out more about volunteering for one of these positions, click here.
Once ballots reach the counting center, a receiving team signs for each sealed ballot box from each precinct. The boxes are opened in the presence of two officials, not belonging to the same political party.
Initial results are reported on election night. But ultimately, the chief election officer must prepare a certified statement of the results.