It’s a long shot, but Hawaii elections could be opened up to younger voters if a bill introduced Thursday makes it through this legislative session.
Senate Bill 4, introduced by Sens. Stanley Chang and Karl Rhoads, proposes a constitutional amendment that would ask voters if Hawaii’s voting age should be lowered from 18 to 16 for state and local elections.
The amendment wouldn’t apply to presidential and congressional elections. Still, proponents say it could increase voter turnout and participation.
“The idea is to get people in the habit young, and they’ll keep doing it,” Rhoads said.
Chang, the bill’s primary sponsor, wasn’t available for comment Thursday afternoon.
Hawaii’s voter turnout was woefully low again last year. The November general election saw a 52.6 percent turnout of registered voters while the August primary had a turnout of 38.6 percent.
Rhoads says he’s frustrated with Hawaii’s lack of voter participation, and that was his primary reason for co-sponsoring the bill.
“It’s a privilege,” he said. “Why would you not want to vote?”
Amending the constitution to lower the voting age may be just as difficult as getting voters to polling booths.
Constitutional amendments must receive two-thirds of the vote in each chamber, according to the state constitution.
After that, they need a majority of the votes cast in a public election, with blank ballots and over-votes counted as “no” votes.
In recent years, attempts to lower the voting age have failed.
A similar bill introduced in the House by former Rep. Kaniela Ing in 2015 was never given a committee hearing.
In 2017, another House bill introduced by Rep. Chris Lee and Speaker Scott Saiki proposed a working group to study lowering the voting age to 16.
“If the minimum voter age is lowered to sixteen years of age, it may increase voter turnout, provide young citizens with an influential voice in the political process, and establish lifelong engaged voters,” the bill said.
It also did not receive a committee hearing.
Rhoads acknowledged the latest bill’s chances are not very good, but reiterated that he supports it if it increases voter turnout.
“If you don’t get them young, they don’t end up voting,” he said. “Democracy doesn’t work if people don’t vote.”
If the amendment were to pass, it’s still not clear how many potential voters would be added.
Hawaii’s voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1971 after Congress ratified the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1970 determined that states can decide on the voting age for local and state elections.
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell