Mail-in voting bill OK’d

  • Associated Press file photo

    A voter casts their ballot in the state primary election Aug. 11, 2018, in Honolulu.

A bill that would require all statewide elections to be conducted by mail beginning with the 2020 primary is headed to Gov. David Ige for consideration.

The state Senate and House passed final readings of the legislation, House Bill 1248, on Tuesday.

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The measure also would establish a limited number of “voter service centers” that would open from 10 days before an election through the day of the election to receive personal delivery of mail-in ballots, accommodate voters with special needs and offer same-day registration and voting, as well as other election services.

County Clerk Jon Henricks said he doesn’t have any concerns about the legislation. His office supported the measure and has been preparing for its implementation.

“We understand our responsibility,” Henricks said. “We will take all steps and measures (to) conduct elections according to new protocols and requirements, and continue to provide convenient and efficient elections for everyone within the law. … We will be ready. We’re in the process of preparing for a new type of election.”

In written testimony submitted before a hearing of the Senate Ways and Means committee last month, Henricks said transitioning to a vote-by-mail election would increase voter turnout by creating a more convenient process.

Election Program Administrator Patricia Nakamoto said the clerk’s office supported the legislation because of the increase and interest in absentee voting by mail.

In the 2016 general election, for example, 35% of votes on the Big Island came from absentee and early walk-in voters, compared to precinct turnout of 23.4% on Election Day.

By comparison, during the 2012 presidential election, about 30% of votes came from absentee and early voters, and 30% came from the polls on Election Day.

She’s not concerned about the process or transition to a voting-by-mail system.

“No, I think we’re ready for it,” she said. “By the 2020 primary election, I feel confident we will be ready. If there is a concern, the only concern I would have, would be getting information out to the voters (about) how critical it is for them to keep our office informed of their residences and mailing addresses. That will determine whether they receive their ballot or not.”

Nakamoto said mailed ballots cannot be forwarded.

Those who want to update their mailing address can do so by calling the clerk’s office at 961-8277 or visiting hawaii.gov/elections.

According to Nakamoto, the clerk’s office plans to do an extensive voter education campaign to inform voters of the change.

Rosemarie Muller, president of the Hawaii County chapter of the League of Women Voters, said the group, which has been a “strong advocate for voting by mail for several years,” is pleased the measure passed.

The group is “hoping this is going to make more Americans participate in our elections here in our state.”

Muller said the measure will modernize the voting process and is “going to make it so much more convenient for our people here, for our citizens here.”

According to the Associated Press, Hawaii would join Oregon, Washington and Colorado with all-mail elections if the bill becomes law. California and Utah give counties the option to have all-mail elections.

Hawaii’s voter turnout is among the lowest in the nation. During last November’s midterm general elections, 52.7% of registered voters cast ballots in the state.

Mail-in voting also would have the added benefit of saving the state about $750,000 each election cycle because the state won’t have to hire as many poll workers, Sen. Karl Rhoads, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Associated Press.

It is unknown whether Ige intends to sign the legislation.

A spokeswoman from Ige’s office said all bills must undergo legal, departmental and, if needed, budgetary review before reaching the governor, who usually does not comment on bills until those reviews are complete.

Ige has until June 24 to notify the Legislature of bills that he might veto. The veto deadline is July 9, and the governor must veto bills on the intent to veto list or the bills will become law with or without his signature.

Senate Bill 1058 also passed final votes in both chambers of the Legislature and will be sent to Ige for consideration.

That bill would require the state attorney general to prepare a statement in English and Hawaiian for proposed constitutional amendments “in language that is clear and that indicates the purpose, limitations and effects of the proposed amendment.”

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The measure also requires the Office of Elections and county clerks to make the statement available to the public at all polling places and online.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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