By Wendy Osher
A house bill that would provide a process for the public to register to vote at polling sites on election day will be heard before the House Finance Committee this afternoon.
House Bill 2590 was introduced by Representative Kaniela Ing of South Maui.
Under the bill, late voter registration would be allowed at absentee polling places beginning in 2016.
The measure would also allow late voter registration on election day at both absentee polling and precinct polling places beginning in 2018.
“Hawaiʻi has the lowest voter turnout in the nation. This challenge could jeopardize the effectiveness of Hawaiʻi’s democratic process,” said Representative Ing in a press release statement.
“While there are various reasons people who do not vote, arbitrary registration deadlines should not be one of them. We need to modernize our archaic election processes and make voting as easy and simple as possible,” said Ing.
The state recorded a 61.9% voter turnout in the 2012 General Election — including a 33.5% precinct and 28.4% absentee turnout. In the 2012 General Election, Maui’s voter turnout was even lower at 56.8% — including a 35.9% precinct and 21% absentee turnout.
According to Ing, who cited recent national studies, the measure is expected to increase voter turnout in Hawaiʻi by an estimated 6-8% and voting among 18-25 year-olds by 8-9%.
“Many young people have only had one or two election cycles to contemplate registering, yet by the time they are engaged and informed enough to make a sound decision, it is too late to register,” said Ing.
“These are people of whom today’s policy decisions will impact for decades to come. We need to do all we can to encourage civic engagement among our youth. Same day voter registration is a pillar of a holistic plan to increase voter turnout, make elections more efficient, and prevent voter fraud and human error,” he said.
Opponents to a similar bill introduced by Ing last year claimed such a measure would create a window of opportunity for voter fraud, and claimed it was based on the assumption that Hawaii’s low voter turn-out is linked to the deadline for voter registration. Others at the time pointed to “political apathy” as the real reason for low turnout.
According to information released by Ing’s office, there are currently 11 states and the District of Columbia that have already implemented same-day voter registration.
Other voting modernization initiatives on the radar, says Ing, include the establishment a state-wide voter database, implementing online voter registration, and replacing outdated paper pollbooks to electronic models by 2016.
Today’s meeting begins at 3 p.m., Feb. 19, in room 309 at the State Capitol.