For the first time, Hawaii will be voting mostly by mail, thanks to a new law this year. That’s welcome news, because it is expected to cut down on costs and just might increase voter turnout.
But here’s another thing Hawaii’s legislators should look into: changing our primary elections from Saturdays to Tuesdays.
Hawaii is the only state — red or blue, large or small — that holds a primary on Saturday (although Louisiana does use a Saturday for a runoff election). In the case of 2020, that’s just one year from now, on Aug. 8.
While the state’s constitution stipulates that general elections must be held “on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November” in all even-numbered years, special and primary elections may be held “as provided by law.”
The only catch is that the primary cannot precede a general election by less than 45 days. That’s been a requirement since 2011, when a new state law moved Hawaii’s primary from the penultimate Saturday in September to the second Saturday in August.
The reason for the 45-day buffer was to ensure that Hawaii be in compliance with the federal National Defense Authorization Act that required states to mail absentee ballots to uniformed and overseas voters no later than 45 days prior to federal elections.
It doesn’t make any sense that our primary is held on Saturdays, half of our precious weekend time. The media and hundreds of state and county workers must also report to duty at that time (in many cases requiring additional compensation), as Hawaii primaries are often more consequential than general elections given the political makeup of the state.
And it doesn’t make any sense to make the first Tuesday in November in even-numbered years a holiday. A Civil Beat report in 2012 found that it costs taxpayers at least $11.5 million to close state and county government offices, schools and the University of Hawaii on Election Day. It’s undoubtedly more now, given public employee wage increases and other costs.
The reason for Saturday primaries and general election holidays appears to be because it made available public school facilities, where most precincts have historically been held. But voting by mail makes that unnecessary.
Indeed, that’s why Act 136, as the vote-by-mail law is called, struck from the books the entitlement that employees be allowed two hours on election days to do their civic duty while the polls are open. The law also extends from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. the time the polls close.
And for those who still enjoy waiting in line to do their duty in a booth shielded by a red, white and blue curtain, Act 136 also calls for the state to set up “a limited number of voter service centers” that would be open 10 days prior to an election and through election day.
The centers will help voters with special needs, offer same-day registration and voting, and other services.
It’s getting easier to vote in Hawaii. Getting rid of Saturday primaries and general election holidays is just common sense not to mention saving the taxpayers much needed cash.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, John Hill and Jessica Terrell. 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.