Vote-by-mail is coming to Hawaii in 2020, due to a law passed by the 2019 Hawaii State Legislature.

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Hawaii’s registered voters will no longer be voting at traditional polling places, such as schools and community centers on primary and election days. Ballots will be automatically mailed to all registered voters starting with the 2020 elections.

This means no more standing in lines with family, friends, and neighbors, talking story before voting. Instead, we’ll talk story at Longs, Zippy’s, or the kitchen table, just like it should be!

To some this will be a major adjustment, but to others, who are registered permanent absentee voters, this will be nothing new.

Is Hawaii adequately prepared to make the transition to all mail-in voting? Proper implementation through public education and sufficient number of voter service centers will determine vote-by-mail’s success.

People must be informed of how vote-by-mail will be altering how citizens will vote. All polling locations throughout the state are eliminated. Instead, there will be VSCs — eight total statewide. There were approximately 235 polling locations during the 2018 elections, but there will only be eight VSCs opened for the 2020 elections.

VSCs will receive personal delivery of mail-in ballots, accommodate voters with special needs, offer same day registration, permit in-person voting, and provide other election services. The chart below compares, by counties, the number of voters, polling locations, and VSCs.

Vote-by-mail can be great for Hawaii voters — convenient, allowing for flexibility as to when voters may cast their ballots and leading to an increase in voter turnout in Hawaii, which is among the lowest in the Nation. It will also save money and ease administrative burdens on the state and counties by eliminating the need to operate and find polling locations and hire accompanying staff.

Unfortunately, it appears that state and counties have forgotten the main reason for vote-by-mail, which is for the benefit of voters.

American democracy is founded upon a citizen’s right to vote, which shall not be abridged or denied, according to the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. People have fought and died in this country for the right to vote.

Only having eight VSCs statewide for monetary savings and administrative ease will broadly limit a citizen’s constitutional right to vote, especially during the first time Hawaii is implementing vote-by-mail. Is saving money and reducing government workers’ load worth sacrificing our constitutional right to vote?

This drastic drop from 235 polling locations statewide, supporting 175,120 in-person voters, to eight VSCs in one election is a major concern.

Recipe For Disaster

Having only eight VSCs statewide be opened — 10 business days before Primary (Aug. 8, 2020) and general election days (Nov. 3, 2020) – to implement all mail-in voting for the very first time in Hawaii with the anticipated record turnout in 2020, given the federal and many state and county elections, is a recipe for disaster. The bottom line is that there must be more VSCs.

People must also be informed of how the vote-by-mail process will operate. Ballot packages will be mailed to all registered voters, which will contain a ballot, a secrecy ballot envelope, a stamped return ballot envelope, and voting instructions.

It appears that state and counties have forgotten the main reason for vote-by-mail.

The ballot packages will be mailed to voter’s homes at least 18 days before primary and election days. If a registered voter does not receive the ballot package, the voter must contact the County Clerk’s Office.

Ballots must be received by the office – not mailed or postmarked — by 7 p.m. on primary and general election days. Voters should mail their ballots back at least 3 days before primary and general election days to ensure that they are timely received by the county clerk’s office.

County election officials have already started to let the public know about the new vote-by-mail program. In July 2019, voters should have received an orange colored postcard. If you did not receive this card, you should confirm that you are registered to vote at your current address.

Some Hawaii voters in rural areas where their mailing addresses and residential addresses are different have reported not receiving the postcard. Voters can check their registrations with the State Elections Office.

Common Cause Hawaii remains committed to ensuring that the vote-by-mail law is implemented properly with the appropriate number of statewide VSCs. Our vote is our right.

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About the Author

  • Sandy Ma
    Sandy Ma is executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, a nonpartisan democracy organization focused on creating an open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest and not special interests. Common Cause Hawaii is dedicated to holding power accountable.