Voting. Growing up we are taught it’s our civic duty, both a privilege and a right. Come election time we also hear the statistics and commentators bemoaning low turnout rates. Here in Hawaii we consistently have some of the lowest rates in the nation.

NOTE: pick the correct link

It kind of makes sense — we’ve got a lot of distractions, many of them fun. But many people are also struggling to make ends meet, to find or keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Sure, everyone knows they should vote, that their vote might someday even impact their ability to find affordable housing and good paying jobs, but for today the focus is on making it through the day.

Thankfully our Hawaii Legislature seems to get that, at least to a certain extent. In some ways they’ve made it easier for everyone.

In the 2020 election our ballots will arrive in our mailboxes. No more need to find out when to vote so you can plan your day around going to the polls (the primary is Aug. 8 and the general is Nov. 3) or figure out where to go vote.

Every registered voter will only need to check the mail. About three weeks prior to election day ballots will arrive.

Now the biggest job is to know the candidates, vote, and stick the ballot back in the mail at least a few days before the election to make sure it’s counted. Easy right? Well, yes much easier. And yet…

A sample Hawaii ballot from 2016. Could automatic voter registration get more people to vote? Hawaii Office of Elections

And yet the ballot only makes it into the mailboxes of registered voters. Once those ballots start hitting mailboxes what happens to those who didn’t get one?

Do they hurry up and figure out how to register and vote in person or do they decide their voice just won’t be heard this time around, making a mental note to register sometime before the next election?

Currently in Hawaii you can register online or by mail ahead of time. In theory that doesn’t sound difficult to do, but this past election I encouraged a lot of my friends to get registered and some struggled.

Registering shouldn’t be a hurdle to voting.

They didn’t struggle because they are lazy or incompetent. They struggled because they, like everyone else, had a lot on their plates competing for their attention. Especially first time voters hadn’t known where to go, the process, or what they’d need.

And for some once they got online or filled out the paper form they had technological challenges or didn’t have the proper documentation readily available. Some got registered and some gave up. Registering shouldn’t be a hurdle to voting.

What if every eligible citizen was automatically registered to vote when they got their driver’s license or identification card? A bill to do just that passed the state Senate last year, but it didn’t make it through the House.

Sixteen states, including all of those on the West Coast, have already passed automatic voter registration laws. Beyond making voting more accessible, these laws save states money, increase accuracy and clean up voter rolls. They also include opt-out provisions so if you don’t want to be registered to vote, you won’t be.

No, automatic voter registration won’t create 100% participation in the next election, but it will remove one more barrier. With automatic voter registration eligible voters would have a ballot sitting in their mailbox. I don’t know about you, but with a ballot in hand I’m more inclined to vote.

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About the Author

  • Heidi Low
    Utilizing her degree in political science, Heidi Low has worked in public affairs advising on community engagement, campaigns, and health care policy in a variety of positions over the years. In the hopes of giving the public an easy way to stay informed and active, she currently tracks and blogs about policy issues and decisions impacting Kauai.