Honolulu has declined to collaborate with the state on its new online voter registration system.
Since the city is already managing the state ID system and processing state driver’s licenses — key databases for verifying voter identification — state officials were hoping the city might be inclined to help implement the new registration system, too.
Scott Nago, Hawaii elections chief, told lawmakers in April that he asked the city to enter into a memorandum of agreement to work with his office to ensure that the new online system is ready in time.
The city, he lamented, has “other commitments” that prevent it from helping.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s spokesman, Jesse Broder Van Dyke, said Monday that it is a question of limited resources; the city simply can’t afford the cost of taking on the online voter registration system.
As such, the Office of Elections is looking into developing a separate system that would be networked in with the city’s databases, Nago said.
The Legislature appropriated $500,000 last year for the Office of Elections to use in the planning and design of the new voter registration system. With that phase done, Nago said the next step involves putting the system into place.
Nago said his office will be seeking bids from companies to do so, but he wasn’t sure when those would go out. There is, he added, no estimate of how much the next phase will cost.
Common Cause Hawaii, a nonprofit focused on promoting public participation in the political process, researched the cost of implementation in 2011. It found that startup costs ranged from $120,000 to $245,000 in Oregon, Colorado, and Maryland.
The group’s executive director, Carmille Lim, said an online voter registration system is a step toward modernizing Hawaii’s voting systems to increase voter turnout and reduce costs.
“If we streamline efforts, in terms of how people are registering at the city and state levels, it just makes business sense,” she told Civil Beat.
Hawaii elections have been beset by problems in recent years, ranging from ballot shortages to historically low voter turnout. But getting people to the polls is only half the battle; the other half is getting them signed up to vote in the first place.
Only 72 percent of Hawaii’s voting-eligible population was registered in the 2012 general election last November. This means more than one out of every four residents who could vote isn’t even signed up to do so.
Common Cause pointed to a study by the Pew Center on the States that shows it costs an average of just 3 cents to process an online application in Arizona compared to an average of 83 cents per paper application. Washington saves a quarter per online application and counties elsewhere have saved upwards of $2 per application, the study says.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says 17 states have laws allowing voters to register online and 15 others are considering it.
Hawaii is one of six states that has passed legislation facilitating online voter registration, but the islands haven’t begun to register voters electronically, according to NCSL.
Hawaii’s new online voter registration system is expected to make it easier for some of the state’s 275,000-plus unregistered voters to become registered.