Monday, April 28, 2014

Lawmakers to vote on same-day voter registration measure

Photo courtesy City & County of Honolulu
A measure to allow voter registration at early-voting locations in 2016 and at all election day polling places in 2018, has passed joint Senate-House conference committees and will be heard for a final reading on Tuesday, April 29 at 9 a.m. at the State Capitol.

During the 1960s, Hawaii was number one for voter turnout. Fifty-five years after statehood, the state is now ranked last.

“It’s time we end this shameful distinction and foster a stronger public voice,” said Rep. Kaniela Ing (Kihei, Wailea, Makena), the bill’s introducer and primary advocate. Recognizing the many factors of low voter turnout, Ing believes same-day registration can be an immediately effective short-term solution to giving voter turnout in the Islands a shot in the arm.

“There are all kinds of reasons folks do not vote, but arbitrary, outdated registration deadlines should not be one of them. Bold action is underway to educate citizens and increase civic engagement, but this solution promises the most instant impact.”

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have implemented same-day voter registration. In Hawaii, allowing same-day and absentee walk-in registration could increase voting turnout by 5-8 percent and voting among 18-25 year-olds by 7-9 percent, according to recent national studies.

The measure is part of a robust elections modernization plan to increase turnout and help reduce problems that the elections office has faced in recent years. The program will take effect simultaneously with a new statewide voter database, electronic poll books, and online registration.

It’s about making elections relevant to the modern world,” Ing said. “Today’s policy decisions will impact young people for decades to come, and it doesn’t make sense to exclude them because of arbitrary registration deadlines based on technological limitations that no longer exist.”

Opponents of the measure claim that the bill will increase voter fraud and overwork poll workers, but Ing believes existing penalties and procedures for legal challenges render in-person voter fraud a non-issue. At the same time, the bill addresses the increased burden on poll workers by providing adequate resources and updated technology.

Other ideas Rep. Ing hopes to pursue in the future include hybrid all-mail/walk-in elections, online voting, a “champions of democracy” program to encourage private employers to allow workers to volunteer at polls, and a program to give state workers an extra day off if they volunteer on election day, which is already a state employee holiday in Hawaii.

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