Hawaii is likely to move to elections conducted almost entirely by mail as soon as 2020 after a conference committee of state legislators voted in favor of a measure to overhaul voting in the state.

House Bill 1248 would create a mail voting system statewide, something proponents hope will increase turnout, while also extending the time early voting locations would be open in each county. 

Previous efforts to enact all-mail voting statewide have failed. A bill died in the final hours of conference committee in 2017, and a House measure failed to get a hearing in the Senate last year.

A 2016 Hawaii mail ballot. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

HB 1248 is now headed back to the House floor for a vote.

The joint committee of House and Senate members also plugged in $200,000 to allow the state Office of Elections to conduct all-mail voting statewide. It also would provide the counties a total of $833,000 as start-up money for the new voting system.

The elections office estimates that it could ultimately save $750,000 each year if it switched to an all-mail system. But Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago said in written testimony that the office would require $912,127 as an initial investment to implement the program in Hawaii County, Maui County and on Oahu (it’s already coming to Kaui next year).

Voters who prefer to walk in to cast their ballots could still do so because HB 1248 would require the county clerks to set up voting centers similar to the early walk-in sites already used.

Those voting sites would stay open until 7 p.m. under HB 1248. Hawaii polling places have typically closed at 6 p.m.

Voting reform was one of the Legislature’s top priorities going into this session, and several other measures are still alive and could be heading to conference committees.

House Bill 1485 would allow students younger than 18 to pre-register as voters, while Senate Bill 412 would require anyone applying for a license or state ID to also register to vote.

Senate Bill 216 calls for automatic recounts in races where the margin of victory is less than 0.5 % or less than 100 votes.

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