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Hawaii's Voter ID Law Apparently … No Big Deal


news and opinion web exclusive

One of the hottest issues in national news is the furor over voter ID laws. Fifteen states require voters to show a photo ID before they're given a a ballot. Legislators in some of the no-ID-required states are trying to pass voter ID laws.

The way this plays out these days is that Republicans call for voter ID laws to prevent fraud, then Democrats denounce them as racists who are trying to block minorities from voting.

So, I went to vote in Hawaii's primary election on Saturday and was reminded that Hawaii is one of those states that requires voters to show a photo ID. The Office of Elections is quite clear on what kind of ID is acceptable to vote or even to register to vote in the first place.

And all of this in a state that is a bastion of the Democratic Party and where large numbers of apparently not-disenfranchised minorities manage to vote just fine.

So what gives? Nationally, Republican fears of voter fraud are probably overstated. But Democratic accusations that such laws are somehow inherently racist seem needlessly inflammatory and divisive. Perhaps our esteemed Sen. Daniel Inouye could inject a little even-handedness into this debate by reminding his peers in the Democratic Party that Hawaii has exactly the same kind of law, enacted out of no antipathy for minorities and resulting in no civil rights crisis whatsoever.

The national debate on this topic is missing an important perspective: voter ID laws aren't even primarily about controlling or enabling voter behavior, despite the rhetoric to that effect. They're about government itself demonstrating to its citizens that it ran a clean, fair election with results that can be trusted. Voting is a members-only right, so it seems reasonable to expect government to do its due diligence in making sure elections are actually restricted to citizens. I think that's what Hawaii was aiming for in its own voter ID laws, dating back to some previous generation of good-government type Democrats who valued public trust. I don't know why the current generation feels the need to insist that the path of social justice requires the government to say, "Yeah, we pretty much handed a ballot to anyone who walked in the door, no questions asked."


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Honolulu Magazine April 2018
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