Hawaii would become the third state to allow imprisoned felons to vote if House Bill 2773 becomes law.

Incarcerated state residents would be allowed to vote by absentee ballot under the bill introduced by Rep. Kaniela Ing. It’s scheduled to be considered by the House Judiciary Committee on Friday. 

Maine and Vermont are currently the only two states that allow felons to vote in prison.

OCCC. Oahu Community Correctional Center. Kalihi. Jail. 19 aug 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The Oahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Unlike many states, Hawaii already allows parolees to vote.

Ing’s bill references a study by the American Correctional Association, which says the right to vote allows incarcerated individuals to better reintegrate into society and encourages civic engagement.

The bill points to national statistics that show communities of color have a higher incarceration rate than whites — and locally, Native Hawaiians are most impacted by a loss of voting power.

By denying prisoners the right to vote, Hawaii disproportionately targets minorities, according to the bill. 

Incarcerated felons would be considered in the same category as college students or those institutionalized, so inmates’ residency would still be valid as long as they can prove their last place of residence was in the islands.

Special ballots with a different appearance could be prepared for inmates by the state’s chief election officer, so long as they contain the same text.

Incarcerated felons would still be prohibited from running for public office.

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