Is Same-Day Voter Registration in Hawaii on its Way?


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PHOTO: ODEELO DAYONDON


In a blog post last week, we wrote: “Believe me, you really don’t want to be that guy who waits in line for an hour on election day only to get turned away because you can’t register on the spot.”

That remains true this year, but things might change for the next election cycle if our state lawmakers approve a bill that would allow for same-day voter registration. If the proposal gets passed, the initial phase of implementation would begin in 2016.

While county clerks who administer voter registration and polling places voiced some concerns about logistics such as staffing, the state Office of Elections has been openly in favor of the bill because of its potential to increase voter registration, which has been persistently low even when local voters had the opportunity to vote for a Hawaii-born president.

Unfortunately, the state doesn’t keep statistics on how many potential voters are turned away on election day because they aren’t registered. But by allowing voters to register on the spot on election day or at an absentee walk-in location, lawmakers expect that voter turnout could increase by 5 to 8 percent. For younger voters aged 18 to 25, they expect a 7-9 percent increase.

Those estimates are based on 11 other jurisdictions that allow same-day registration, as well as national reports.

State Rep. Kaniela Ing (D-Kihei, Wailea, Makena), the bill’s introducer and, at 25, one of those younger voters, issued a press release yesterday that pointed out that in the 1960s Hawaii had the highest voter turnout. Now we’re dead last. “It’s time we end this shameful distinction and foster a stronger public voice,” Ing stated.

That’s what the Office of Election believes. “We’ve been in support of same-day registration,” said state elections spokesman Rex Quidilla. His office provided feedback throughout the process to make sure same-day registration is something the state and counties can pull off. You can find the pages of recommendations, including how to deal with potential voter fraud in the Office of Elections testimony here.

The League of Women Voters applauded the conference committee’s efforts to make voter registration easier in a news release and on its website:

"The League congratulates the Legislature on taking this important step to help Hawaii vote," said League President Piilani Kaopuiki. “We fully expect our County Clerks will successfully implement these changes for the benefit of voters. Hawaii is now poised for a turnaround in its poor election turnout of recent years."

The final conference committee draft on the bill can be found online here.

The final vote is this tomorrow morning (April 29) at the state Capitol at 9 a.m.

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