It seems like a lifetime ago that we had the opportunity to testify in support of Senate Bill 2005 which would introduce automatic voter registration to Hawaii. Now we meet for classes on Zoom and wonder what life will be like when we emerge from this pandemic.

Our elected leaders are apparently meeting without the need to hear our voices since the Sunshine Laws have been suspended. We will not be able to hold them accountable for the decisions they take behind closed doors.

If we are expected to continue with our classes and meet our student obligations using technology, why can we not expect lawmakers and our executive branch to do the same and work remotely to pass critical legislation?

From what we saw at the hearing when we testified, there was virtually no opposition to AVR. This is a way to use technology to draw in more voices, voices like ours.

What keeps lawmakers from enacting this now and not deferring this and all other bills to next year as it has been reported they are ready and willing to do?

House Chambers Legislature opening 2019.
A full House chamber in 2019. When the Legislature finally ends its recess, a priority should be passing automatic voter registration. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

I, Sarah-Lyn Kaeo, come from Nanakuli. I believe making it easier for communities like mine to vote is a good thing for them and for Hawaii.

My community is highly under-represented in the upper levels of power where decisions are made. Homelessness and limited resources to address community needs are significant issues that require more discussion and better attention from our representatives.

Yet the people most affected by these issues are often not at the table when policies are made. That needs to change. Improving access to voting by enacting automatic voter registration will allow the voices of my community to be heard.

The traditional process of registering to vote can discourage some people from voting for several reasons. COVID-19 has added to the challenges many families have to face such as burdensome work schedules and just not having enough time to register.

Instead of having them go to the Office of Elections, online or in person, they can be registered to vote when they visit the DMV. Especially now, surely we see the benefit of minimizing the risk of needless personal contact? People still have to go to the DMV to get a license or renew it or to get a state ID.

Saving them one step by having their voter registration updated at the same time makes so much sense especially in the current climate of fear of infection. That increases the likelihood that people will vote and ensures that voter rolls are updated promptly.

Rural communities will enjoy better representation if we improve access to voting. Easing the registration process puts people in a state of readiness to vote in both the primary (Aug. 8) and general (Nov. 3) elections this year.

A Time-Saver

I, Lindney Acosta, come from and still reside in Kalihi, a neighborhood of many low-income and immigrant families. These families, including my own, work tirelessly day in and day out, most needing to work multiple jobs, just to make ends meet. They prioritize being able to put food on the table, which most of the time leaves very little to no room for voluntary civic engagement.

My friend, who is an emergency medical technician, works 12-hour shifts, comes home to rest, and does the same thing over and over again. He has yet to be registered to vote. Many simply cannot afford to take time to register to vote.

We also live in a time where the youth of our state are hungry to make a difference. They are the driving force for a better Hawaii. Issues like climate change, gun control, affordable housing, and the handling of sacred Hawaiian land are all hot topics in social media.

But, these people who are crying out for change need to first make their voices heard through the ballot box. My generation needs to vote. Please, now is not the time to delay empowering young voters.

More than ever, let’s protect our democracy.

Vote by mail is a step forward. We thank legislators for enacting VBM. Let’s not use COVID-19 as an excuse to shut down the Legislature and not take the next step and pass AVR.

AVR is a technology-driven solution. Young people like that.

We are constantly told that the future of Hawaii is in the hands of the youth. If lawmakers believe that, please do not tie our hands. Ease the task and cost of registering to vote.

AVR will allow more people to become involved. It will prevent delays in processing paper registrations and will allow equal opportunity for all the people of Hawaii to have a voice in our democracy. It’s a technology-driven solution. Young people like that.

As UH students, we hope to become more civically engaged and AVR will help. Let us establish a well-engaged community by removing obstacles to participation, and by improving access to voting.

We urge lawmakers to come back from their recess as soon as possible and make AVR a reality like the 17 other states that have already done so. COVID-19 should make it more, not less, urgent that they pass SB 2005. We need to do more, not less, to encourage civic participation.

In the meantime, we hope all our fellow students who are eligible to vote will make sure they can exercise this right by going to this website and confirming that their voter information is current.

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