Voting in coronavirus times is perilous and likely to make in-person voting at the polls difficult. Even in relatively saner times, Hawaii’s voting record has been spotty at best.

According to the State Office of Elections, in 1959, when the then-Territory of Hawaii voted to decide whether or not to become a state, about 93.6 % of registered voters punched a ballot (183,118 registered voters with a voter turnout of 171,383).

Keep in mind that a little less than half of those eligible to vote did vote, so the actual turnout is pegged at about 40%.

Fast-forward to the last election in 2018. About 58% of those registered cast a ballot — but again, adjusting for the actual number of those eligible to vote, Hawaii’s voting turnout is the lowest in the country. For comparison, about 80% of registered voters in California, Oregon and Washington voted.

To help boost the worst voter turnout in the nation with the additional benefit of saving money, Hawaii enacted all mail-in voting in 2019, which is effective for the state’s upcoming primary election this year on Aug. 8 and general election on Nov. 3. Hawaii’s adoption of statewide vote-by-mail could not come at a more needed time.

Hawaii’s all mail-in voting is not new. Three other states — Colorado, Washington and Oregon — have moved exclusively to mail-in voting.
Though it’s too early to tell how mail-in voting will affect Hawaii’s turnout, Common Cause has researched Colorado’s experience. It found that it has improved voter participation.

Pleasing Experience

Colorado mails ballots to all registered voters to enable an efficient vote-at-home process, without requiring voters to request a ballot before each election. For those who want to vote in person or drop off their ballots, Colorado establishes in-person voting at voting centers.

Voters in Colorado’s elections are very pleased with their mail-in ballot experience. Common Cause reports 95% satisfaction with mail-in voters and 96% satisfaction with in-person voters.

This year most voters in Hawaii will vote by mail rather than in person. And that’s a good thing. 

Hawaii’s mail-in system will work similar to Colorado’s, with a few exceptions. All registered voters will be mailed a ballot package approximately 18 days prior to the primary election (Aug. 8) and general election (Nov. 3). To check if you are a registered voter, to register to vote, or to check if the Office of Elections has your correct address, please go to

The ballot package a registered voter will receive in the mail will contain the ballot, ballot secrecy sleeve, postage prepaid return ballot envelope, and voting instructions. Voters should read and follow the instructions, complete the ballot, put the ballot in the secrecy sleeve, put the secrecy sleeve in the return envelope, and sign the outside of the envelope.

If a voter does not receive the ballot package approximately 18 days before the elections or if a voter has spoiled a ballot, please contact the County Clerk’s Office.

Hawaii voters mailing their ballots must remember that the ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on primary day and election day. This means that voters cannot wait until the last minute to mail back their completed ballots. The ballots must be in the mail several days (at least three to five days) prior to Aug. 8 and Nov. 3.

Acknowledging, even in the grip of this pandemic, that people will want to vote in person or same day register to vote, Hawaii Voter Service Centers will be open 10 days before elections, keeping business hours, and on election days they’ll be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The number of voting centers in Hawaii are at the discretion of the counties; eight centers will be open statewide. Voters can also drop off their completed ballots if mailing them would be too late.

Hawaii will additionally have places of deposit — drop-boxes — in all counties where voters may drop off their voted ballots. These secure drop sites will be open five business days prior to each election until 7 p.m. on election days.

Rightfully, the original intent of mail-in voting — improving voter turnout — is now taking a backseat to allowing citizens to vote while under quarantine. At least six states have had to cancel or postpone their primaries because of the coronavirus.

Hawaii’s primary (voting for local races) is different from the Democratic Party of Hawaii-run (or the Hawaii Republican Party-run) presidential primary, in which in-person voting had been cancelled and was switched to all mail-in voting. A person needs to be registered with the political party to participate in party primary elections.

Vote-by-mail is critical in these times of public health crisis. Our federal administration, recognizing the importance of election protection, has included $400 million as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus emergency spending measure.

The policies we’d like to see in the future, which may be funded with Hawaii’s portion of the $400 million election protection funds, are:

  1. additional Voter Service Centers and drop boxes, even with COVID-19, to ensure the smooth transition to vote-by-mail as 2020 is the first time that Hawaii will be all mail-in voting (drop boxes may be co-located in places that provide essential services, so people can drop their ballots when they buy groceries);
  2. have all counties, including Kauai, use machines to automate more of the ballot intake process (e.g., opening, sorting, and signature verification);
  3. self-sealing envelopes;
  4. additional language translations for ballot packages; and
  5. updating voter registration databases.

Updating voter registration addresses is probably the single most useful and needed update to complement the vote-by-mail system. If we do not update our voter rolls, voters will not receive their ballots.

Over 769,000 Hawaii residents are registered to vote; however, more than 14% have outdated addresses and must update their records before a mail ballot packet will be sent for the election. With automatic voter registration, this updating of our voter rolls will be made easier, automatic, and secure.

If we do not update our voter rolls, voters will not receive their ballots.

Currently, when citizens over the age of 18 visit the Department of Motor Vehicles to update a driver’s license or state identification, or get a new driver’s license or state ID, they’ll be able to register to vote. Under automatic voter registration, registration is automatic unless they opt-out.

If they do not check the opt-out box, their voter registration information will be automatically transferred to the Office of Elections. This is efficient and saves time and money. Not everyone will remember to update their voter registration, but everyone knows they’ll need to renew or apply for a new driver’s license or state identification for work, travel and business purposes. Automatic voter registration modernizes our elections system and updates our voter registration database.

Expanding access to voting and the voter base is something everyone can get behind. There is no better way to express one’s opinion and to exercise a vital right.

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