I am one of about 100 million eligible voters who did not vote during the 2016 presidential election — not out of laziness or even a lack of desire to vote, but because of the largest barrier to voting: voter registration.

NOTE: pick the correct link

In Hawaii, the current voter registration system places burdens on individuals that take time and a special effort to address. One must figure out how to become a registered voter or update one’s voter information, seek out the necessary form, and satisfactorily complete it 30 days prior to Election Day.

As we know only too well from Hawaii’s low voter turnout, too many people put off doing this and therefore do not vote.

This system does not recognize the reality of modern life. Americans move more than they ever have. Much of the eligible voter population either works multiple jobs, attends college, or both. Letting the registration deadline slip through the cracks is all too easy.

Even with same-day voter registration, which Hawaii rolled out in 2016, eligible voters are faced with long lines at the polls and overwhelmed staff and volunteers.

Unfortunately, between being a full time-student and working 20 hours a week, that is exactly what happened when I resolved to exercise my civic duty. I still showed up to my designated polling place, hoping to become a first-time voter. I filled out a same-day voter registration affidavit but was not given a ballot and I ran out of steam.

The result: I did not vote.

Early Voting 2018 Honolulu Hale. 4 aug 2018
Voting in 2018 at Honolulu Hale. Will Hawaii adopt automatic voter registration to improve turnout? Cory Lum/Civil Beat

My experience in becoming a registered voter would have been vastly different if Hawaii had automatic voter registration.

AVR rightfully shifts the burden of voter registration from the individual to the state in two ways.

First, it automatically registers eligible citizens to vote, or updates their voter information when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles — unless they “opt out.”

Second, the system requires voter information to be electronically transferred between licensing and election officials. This does away with traditional paper forms. That’s good for the environment and it also means when you visit the DMV to apply for or renew your driverʻs license or state ID, you do not need to worry about filling out additional forms to ensure your right to vote.

By cutting away red tape, AVR increases the likelihood that people will vote — something that Hawaii has struggled with for the last 20 years. During the 2016 presidential election, the state again had the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Only 43 percent of eligible voters actually cast a ballot, according to the U.S. Elections Project.

Other States Do It

In the same year, Oregon became the first state to implement AVR. The program was successful: 226,094 residents were automatically registered, of which more than 98,000 casted a ballot. In addition, 264,551 voters received automatic address updates. And Oregon is not alone.

Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have approved AVR. This translates into improved access to voting, enhanced election security, and savings on resources that would have been used in traditional paper registration and postage. AVR can deliver the same benefits for Hawaii.

Thankfully, the transformative power of AVR is not lost on our elected officials. Both chambers have passed Senate Bill 412, which would establish AVR in Hawaii, and the bill is now in conference committee.

My hope and the hope of many of my generation is that our representatives are truly dedicated to upholding democracy and will continue to work to make AVR a reality in Hawaii.

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