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Hawaiʻi Approves Same-Day Voter Registration

April 30, 2014, 3:03 PM HST · Updated April 30, 3:19 PM
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Kaniela Ing, courtesy photo.

Kaniela Ing. Courtesy photo.

By Wendy Osher

Hawaiʻi voters will soon have the opportunity to register to vote at early voting sites and polling places, under a measure that gained final passage in the Hawaiʻi Legislature.

Representative Kaniela Ing of South Maui who introduced House Bill 2590 celebrated the bill’s passage saying in a press release announcement, “Hawaiʻi was number one for voter turnout during the 1960s. 50 years later, we are dead last.  This bill moves to end this shameful distinction and foster a stronger public voice. We need to take our turnout and turn it around.”

Under the election reform measure, residents would be allowed to register to vote at early voting locations in 2016 and at all election day polling places in 2018.

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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.

Ing called the measure an “effective short-term solution” to low voter turnout saying, “There are all kinds of reasons folks do not vote, but arbitrary, outdated registration deadlines should not be one of them.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.”

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 Hawaiʻi’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.

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“I’ve spent two years working to craft a fair law, and I believe we now have just that. Existing penalties and procedures for legal challenges render in-person voter fraud a non-issue, while the bill addresses the increased burden on poll workers by providing adequate resources and updated technology — it’s a win-win for state workers and democracy,” Ing said.

According to Ing, who cited recent national studies, the measure is expected to increase voter turnout in Hawaiʻi by an estimated 5-8% and voting among 18-25 year-olds by 7-9%.

“Many young people like myself only had one or two election cycles to contemplate registering. When the debates are over we are informed enough to place a responsible vote, it is too late to register. Today’s policy decisions will impact young people for decades to come, and I refuse to silence their voices with arbitrary registration deadlines based on technological limitations that no longer exist,” Ing said in the announcement.

Ing said other election-related items he hopes to address 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.

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