To quote Yogi Berra, it’s “déjà vu all over again” at the state Capitol.
A bill that would require the state Office of Elections to implement all-mail balloting in time for the 2020 elections is before lawmakers.
On Friday, House Bill 2541 passed the full Hawaii House of Representatives with little opposition. It now awaits Senate consideration.
We are very hopeful that the bill will soon become law. But we’ve seen this movie before, and unlike “Groundhog Day,” it has had a bad ending so far.
Similar legislation made it to conference committee in 2015 but was ignored. In 2016 and 2017, bills died in the last minutes of the last day of conference committee with nary an explanation provided.
In fact, there is no good reason to kill HB 2541, but plenty of good ones to send it to the governor for his signature.
For one, switching to all-mail voting will save the state Office of Elections $750,000 per election cycle in labor costs.
For another, the state’s chief elections officer, Scott Nago, supports all-mail voting because he said it is convenient and accessible.
Jade Fountain-Tanigawa, the county clerk for Kauai, describes the current election model as a “highly complex process” that requires lots of resources.
Here are more reasons to make the voting switch:
It can be hard for low-income voters and people holding down multiple jobs to find the time to get to the polls. It can also be difficult for seniors and the disabled to show up to cast a ballot.
All-mail balloting appears to increase voter participation, based on the experience of Oregon, which has been doing it for two decades.
A good many people want to vote this way. A recent Civil Beat poll found that 46 percent of residents supported the change, while 35 percent opposed it.
And a good many people are already voting this way: Four years ago, in Hawaii’s primary election, more ballots — 56 percent — were submitted before Election Day than on Election Day. Of that figure, 83 percent voted absentee with a ballot they received in the mail.
‘The People Are The Power’
Voting absentee allows voters to more carefully consider who and what is on their ballots. They can consult friends and family and go online.
For those who still cherish the tradition of walking into a voting booth on Election Day or during early voting, that option would still exist at various voter service centers. The centers would also offer same-day registration and voting.
Finally, HB 2541 calls for the Office of Elections to keep the Legislature appraised of how the new system works, so any kinks could be worked out.
As a group called Modern Elections Hawaii argues, “the people are the power,” and the best way to keep it that way is “by diminishing barriers to participation and increasing voter turnout.”
The group, which includes Common Cause Hawaii andthe Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, has this to say as well: “As the state with the lowest voter turnout we ask that you join us as we work to accomplish this goal and bring Hawaii’s elections into the 21st century.”
We wholeheartedly agree, and hope the 76 men and women of the Hawaii Legislature do as well. Voters will be watching.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Landess Kearns. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.