Hawaii voters won’t have to worry about picking a new governor or U.S. senator this year, but both U.S. House of Representatives seats are up for a vote along with the Honolulu mayor, the Honolulu prosecutor and numerous other local and legislative races.

And of course, it’s the year we vote for president of the United States. The political parties haven’t held their national nominating conventions yet, but it looks like the race is shaping up to be between incumbent Republican President Donald Trump, who is hoping for a second term, and Democrat Joe Biden, the former vice president under President Barack Obama.

The primary election is always the most important in Hawaii because the state is so heavily dominated by one political party — the Democrats. Most of the state level races for the House and Senate will be decided in the primary, which is on Aug. 8.

Nonpartisan races — like county mayors, prosecutors and council members — could be close enough to go to a runoff during the general election, which is set for Nov. 3. There’s a runoff if one candidate does not get more than 50% of the total votes cast in their particular race.

Hawaii has notoriously had one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. But in recent years, the Legislature has taken steps to put in place strategies aimed at boosting voter participation. For instance, voters have been able to register online for the past few years.

But the biggest election reform in recent years was approved by the Legislature last year when it moved Hawaii to a vote-by-mail system.

For the first time, this year Hawaii will conduct its elections through the mail, with only a handful of voting centers where people can drop off their ballots. The centers are expected to open 10 days before election day.

The State Office of Elections and several county clerks testified in support of voting by mail, as did good government groups like Common Cause Hawaii and the League of Women Voters. They said it would decrease the cost of elections, which are high in part because of the difficulty of staffing voting precincts on election days.

In recent years, Hawaii had already seen more voters applying for absentee ballots rather than wait in voting lines. And, while evidence is mixed, in some states that have voting by mail voter participation is high.

Hawaii used to enjoy high voter turnout. In 1960, a year after statehood, 93% of Hawaii’s registered voters went to the polls in the general election.

But in 2018, a year we elected a governor, only about 52% of the 706,000 people registered to vote in Hawaii that year cast a ballot in the general election. We do slightly better in presidential election years; in 2016 about 58% of registered voters voted in the general.

The deadline to register for the Aug. 8 primary election is July 9, while the deadline to register for the Nov. 3 general election is Oct. 5.

If you miss the deadline to register for the primary or general election, you can still walk in and register before and on Election Day (with proper ID or documentation of your residency) at Voter Service Centers, which will be open July 27 – Aug. 8 for the primary and Oct. 20 – Nov. 3 for the general.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot for the primary is Aug. 1, and Oct. 27 for the general.

You can find the dates for early voting and the steps and deadline to request an absentee ballot on the state Office of Elections website.

The 2020 Races

Kirk Caldwell is completing his second and final full term as Honolulu mayor, and the vacancy has drawn a large field. They include a former mayor, Mufi Hannemann, a former U.S. congresswoman, Colleen Hanabusa, two well-known businessmen — Keith Amemiya and Rick Blangiardi — and Honolulu City Councilwoman Kym Pine.

The position of Honolulu prosecutor is not term-limited, but longtime incumbent Keith Kaneshiro is not running again. He is on paid leave after receiving a target letter in a federal investigation connected to former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, former deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, who were convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Both races are nonpartisan.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case, a Democrat, is running for reelection in the 1st Congressional District that largely represents urban Oahu. Several Republican candidates are also running.

State Sen. Kai Kahele, a Democrat, is seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in the 2nd Congressional District, which represents mostly rural Oahu and all the neighbor islands. Gabbard, a Democrat, is not running for reelection. Several Republicans and members of other parties and nonpartisan candidates are also in the race.

In the Legislature, all 51 House seats are on the primary election ballot along with 13 of the 25 state Senate seats. Traditionally, most incumbents have been easily reelected and the Democratic Party of Hawaii has long dominated both chambers.

Races for county mayors and councils are nonpartisan. Besides Honolulu’s mayoral race, Hawaii County will be electing a mayor. Incumbent Mayor Harry Kim is among those on the ballot.

Trustees for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs are also nonpartisan, and they are also statewide races. Candidates do not have to be Native Hawaiian, nor do voters.

All four counties also have charter amendment questions particular to their respective islands. The questions, which are in the process of county review as of this writing, will be placed on the general election ballot.

Civil Beat’s Election Guide

The Hawaii Office of Elections website is the best place to find any information you need about the elections including how and when to register, how to find your polling place and when you can begin casting your ballot.

You can keep up with all of Civil Beat’s coverage as the election season progresses in our Elections 2020 section.

Meanwhile, here are some other resources we’ve put together to help you through the 2020 elections:

Unofficial 2020 Primary Election Ballot: Our way to help you keep track of races and candidates in your district. We are once again sending out questionnaires to candidates, asking them to give us their positions on key issues that are particular to the office they’re running for. You will be able to find links to these Q&As on this page.

Hawaii Civics 101: Our series of short, explainer videos helps you understand politics, government and democracy in the Aloha State.

Ad Watch: A viewer’s guide to campaign videos and political ads. We regularly analyze campaign commercials with an eye toward substance, tone, message and accuracy — whatever you need to know about an ad when you see it online or on TV. The federal government now requires TV stations to report political advertising spending and schedules online.

Cashing In: Tracking political spending through state and federal campaign finance records. We review and analyze the campaign spending reports filed at various times of the year to report who is financing candidates and their campaigns. We look at political action committees and independent expenditure committees, too.

The Civil Beat Poll: We conduct our own independent polls on a variety of topics and issues as election season moves along. Check here to read what Hawaii thinks about statewide and local races and issues.

Civil Beat Politics: Learn more about candidates and issues by joining our Facebook Group, Civil Beat Politics. We aim to promote civil — yet spirited — discussion of and participation in the 2018 election. You can air your thoughts on campaigns, candidates and issues along with your friends, colleagues and even political rivals. But it’s also a place to connect with others in the community who want to become more active in this year’s elections.

Voter Education And Turnout

Get information and help from these organizations:

League of Women Voters of Hawaii

Pew Charitable Trusts/Research Center

Project Vote Smart

Campaign Finance Resources

Both the state and the federal government impose contribution limits when giving directly to candidates. Money has been flowing to candidates and political committees for the 2020 elections. You can follow the money yourself on a number of online campaign and political sites:

Federal candidates and committees:

• Center for Responsive Politics

Federal Election Commission

Campaign Finance Institute

State candidates and committees:

Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission

National Institute on Money In State Politics

Elections Offices Statewide

These offices oversee the elections in Hawaii:

Hawaii Office of Elections

City and County of Honolulu

Hawaii County

Maui County

Kauai County

Political Parties

Democratic Party of Hawaii

Hawaii Republican Party

Libertarian Party of Hawaii

The Green Party of Hawaii

Aloha Aina Party

American Shopping Party

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