Absentee voting is gaining in popularity, so much so that Hawaii’s governor has proposed all mail-in voting.

The Legislature is considering the governor’s idea.

With the increased preference for filling out ballots at home or the workplace, however, the potential for voter fraud and voter intimidation could also grow.

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 1027, which seeks to protect the integrity of absentee balloting

The legislation would require absentee voters to affirm by signature that the ballot was completed in secrecy and without influence from others — namely, their employer, unions and political candidates. It also requires absentee ballots to include information about election and voter fraud.

The measure, which was amended and now heads to House Finance, received testimony mostly in support, including from the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Honolulu City Clerk, the League of Women Voters of Hawaii and Common Cause Hawaii.

Some are already calling it The Romy Cachola Bill.

Passed With Amendments

HB 1027 does not actually name the Hawaii state representative and former Honolulu city councilman.

But several supporters of the legislation told Civil Beat that it would address the kinds of concerns that were raised in the 2012 primary election, when Cachola defeated fellow Democrat Nicole Velasco by just 120 votes for the state House District 30 seat.

One person who submitted testimony in support of the bill specifically cited Cachola as well as Civil Beat’s reporting on the voting.

Research showed that more than 70 percent of those who voted for Cachola did so via a mail-in ballot, by far the highest percentage in Hawaii. It was also not the first time that Cachola had benefitted from an unusually high percentage of absentee support.

Civil Beat also interviewed one family in District 30 that accused Cachola of pressuring their grandmother to complete her ballot in front of him. He then took the ballot and mailed it for her, they said.

Cachola strongly denied the allegations of voter intimidation, though he did acknowledge that he helps constituents with “voter education” so the ballots aren’t spoiled.

“We didn’t do anything illegal,” he told Civil Beat at the time.

Should HB 1027 become law, however, it would be illegal for a candidate to watch a voter complete a ballot.

In Thursday’s hearing, Judiciary Chairman Karl Rhoads expressed surprise that a politician would be brazen enough to help someone with their ballot.

“When people offer me their ballots, I always run the other way,” he said.

The League of Women Voters’ Janet Mason and Scott Nago, the state’s chief elections officer, advised the Judiciary Committee against requiring voters to sign both the ballot and the envelope for the ballot, which the bill proposes as a security measure.

Any amended version of the bill will likely heed the advice regarding signatures, as well as suggestions about defining voter assistance and warnings about election fraud.

Nago’s office did not take a position on the bill. But the Maui County Clerk warned of increased administrative costs and said the law was already clear on voter assistance.

Rep. Bob McDermott asked if the bill could include language that would urge the Attorney General’s Office to promptly investigate allegations of voter intimidation. Rhoads said he would include language to that effect in the bill’s committee report.

“It was a very good outcome,” said Mason. “They are making quite a few amendments to pass the bill, and there were no objections from the committee.”

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