Despite a 2020 general election when some Oahu polls closed almost four hours late and some Hilo voters spent three hours in line, the state Elections Commission is sending the Legislature a rosy review in its required biennial evaluation of the conduct of the election. At a meeting Thursday via Zoom, the commission, already 20 days late in submitting its report, voted to send a report that doesn’t include concerns raised by citizens and groups submitting comments at a meeting last month. The report, under state law, is required to include findings and recommendations from the biennial evaluation. “I’d like to get this report in,” said Chairman Scotty Anderson. “Yeah, we had a few problems, but it was mostly a smooth election.” Commissioner Lillian Koller pushed for a delay until comments could be evaluated and included. “I don’t see any way we as a commission can conclude our report to the Legislature without including the concerns that were raised,” Koller said. “The purpose in our report to the Legislature is not to gush with enthusiasm over a job well done. Our job is to identify what concerns have been expressed within our jurisdiction so the Legislature can take action.”
Hawaii: Elections Officials Want To Tweak state’s Mail-Voting Law Next Year | Blaze Lovell/Honolulu Civil Beat
Hawaii Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago plans to ask the Legislature for changes to Hawaii’s mail voting system that could make it easier for officials to open more in-person voting sites and give voters more time to fill their ballots. In a report to the state Elections Commission, Nago said the Office of Elections plans to propose several measures. Chief among them is one that would give county election officials more flexibility than currently allowed under the law to open more voter centers, an issue that came to a head on Nov. 3 when thousands of voters waited for hours in lines outside Hawaii’s eight voter centers — especially in at Kapolei and Honolulu Hale. Right now, all centers must be open at uniform times for a 10-day period before Election Day. Maui County Clerk Kathy Kaohu has previously said that hampered efforts to open another voter center in Hana, where some residents made a more than two-hour drive to cast ballots at the island’s only center in Wailuku in November. Nago said the idea is to establish more voter centers in the days leading up to and on Election Day. Other mail voting states, like Colorado, ramp up the number of in-person voting options in the days before an election. Despite calls from good government and voting rights groups, officials stuck with just eight centers all the way through Election Day, citing that state law requiring uniform times as one impediment to opening more.
Voter advocates say Hawaii should set up more voter service centers after a last-minute surge of interest led to hours-long lines for in-person voting on Election Day even as the state switched to a vote-by-mail system for casting ballots. Overall, the state’s vote-by-mail election appears to have been a big success, leading to record numbers of voters participating. More than 69% of registered voters cast ballots, the highest ratio for the state since 1994. The overwhelmingly majority voted by mail. Even so, there were hundreds of people in line at Oahu’s two voter services centers when polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m. Tuesday. It took about four hours for the line at the Kapolei center to clear, delaying the release of election results until about 11:30 p.m. Honolulu’s election administrator and lawmakers expressed skepticism that more facilities would make the difference. Sen. Chris Lee, one of the authors Hawaii’s vote-by-mail law, said increasing the number of voter service centers is something that could be considered, but boosting education to get voters to act before Election Day would be effective to prevent a recurrence.
Vote-by-mail is coming to Hawaii in 2020, due to a law passed by the 2019 Hawaii State Legislature. Hawaii’s registered voters will no longer be voting at traditional polling places, such as schools and community centers on primary and election days. Ballots will be automatically mailed to all registered voters starting with the 2020 elections. This means no more standing in lines with family, friends, and neighbors, talking story before voting. Instead, we’ll talk story at Longs, Zippy’s, or the kitchen table, just like it should be! To some this will be a major adjustment, but to others, who are registered permanent absentee voters, this will be nothing new. Is Hawaii adequately prepared to make the transition to all mail-in voting? Proper implementation through public education and sufficient number of voter service centers will determine vote-by-mail’s success. People must be informed of how vote-by-mail will be altering how citizens will vote. All polling locations throughout the state are eliminated. Instead, there will be VSCs — eight total statewide. There were approximately 235 polling locations during the 2018 elections, but there will only be eight VSCs opened for the 2020 elections.
Hawaii County Clerk Jon Henricks told state legislators Wednesday that the county will have a high-speed ballot sorting machine by February, which he said will give Hawaii Island elections workers “plenty of time” to prepare for the new voting-by-mail system that will be in place for the 2020 primary and general elections. “It’s a very good machine. We had staff come to view the City and County of Honolulu’s machine, and they were sold on it,” Henricks said during a joint informational briefing of the state Senate and House Judiciary committees in Honolulu. “They’re essential, I believe, when you move to voting by mail because of the number of ballots.” The vote-by-mail law, passed by the Legislature and signed June 25 by Gov. David Ige, is aimed at improving voter participation and ballot security. Officials also think the new system will save money in the long run. “We wrote this bill to expand voting hours and access, and make it easier for everyone to vote. We hope to see voter participation rise this coming election,” said Rep. Chris Lee, an Oahu Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Hawaii: Governor Ige Signs All-Mail Voting, Automatic Recount Bills | Blaze Lovell/Honolulu Civil Beat
When you vote for the next U.S. president or Honolulu’s next mayor, you probably won’t do it in a polling booth. Gov. David Ige signed into law Tuesday afternoon bills establishing an all-mail voting system starting with the 2020 elections along others mandating automatic recounts in close races. He also signed a bill that allows for ballots to be electronically transmitted for voters with special needs. Those bills were among 18 others Ige signed Tuesday covering homelessness, mental and physical health, kupuna care and traffic safety. The state Office of Elections has already begun work on getting the all-mail voting system ready for the 2020 elections. Voters should be getting their ballots, along with prepaid return envelopes, about 18 days before each election.
The Hawaii Supreme Court this afternoon invalidated Trevor Ozawa’s 22-vote victory over Tommy Waters for the City Council District 4 seat. “Because the correct results of the November, 6, 2018 special election for the city councilmember seat for District IV cannot be determined, the special election must be invalidated” the court said in a 55-page opinion signed by all five justices. “The second special election for councilmember for District IV, City and County of Honolulu, is invalidated.” City Clerk Glen Takahashi, in an email to Council members, said “while we are still reviewing, we will be required to re-run the election for Council district IV.” The re-vote will likely need to occur within 120 days.
At least three state senators are drafting legislation that would require automatic recounts in close election races in Hawaii. The bills being drafted seek to avoid or more quickly resolve election disputes such as the one ongoing for a Honolulu City Council seat, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday. The council is still without a ninth member after candidate Tommy Waters challenged Trevor Ozawa’s 22-vote victory at the last election.
As Hawaii readies for its primary elections, voters are grappling with an erupting volcano and Hurricane Hector. Elections are challenging times for candidates even in the best of circumstances. But Big Island politicians frequently have extra adversity, given they live on top of one of the world’s most active volcanoes and in the general vicinity of hurricanes that barrel through the central Pacific Ocean many summers. The island has a history of nature-related election disruptions: In 2014, Tropical Storm Iselle forced the same two precincts hit hardest by Kilauea volcano to close the day of the primary. The state Office of Elections organized a makeup election day for the two precincts six days later.
Political candidates running for office in areas heavily affected by Kilauea’s ongoing volcanic eruption on Hawaii island are complaining that the state Office of Elections is confusing voters and unnecessarily shutting down walk-in voting locations on the day of primary elections. Both Pahoa Community Center and Pahoa High and Intermediate School will be closed to voting Aug. 11 with no alternative walk-in location available. One County Council candidate is also concerned that plans to send absentee ballots to affected residents weeks ahead of schedule to compensate for the closures will give incumbents an unfair advantage. “They are basically pre-empting the election,” said Frederic Wirick, who is running for the Hawaii County Council District 5 seat, representing western Puna, against incumbent Jennifer Ruggles.
Hawaii: Lava prompts election officials to mail absentee voting applications | Hawaii Tribune-Herald
The State Office of Elections and the Hawaii County Elections Division on Monday announced they will be mailing absentee voting applications to more than 6,000 voters assigned to Pahoa Community Center (precinct 04-03) and Pahoa High/Intermediate (precinct 04-04) due to the uncertain nature of the volcanic eruption in lower Puna. Voters can use the absentee application to request a mail ballot for the 2018 elections, or to update their address if they have relocated.
Are Hawaii voters ready to cast their votes by mail only? Some lawmakers think so. It’s a measure that’s been proposed and election officials have a strong argument for it. Chief election officer Scott Nago says the numbers show more people are not heading to the polls anymore. Voting by mail would also save the state money. We learned that 62 percent voted absentee during the 2016 primary. For the general election, absentee votes made up 54 percent.
A bill that attempts to ramp up Hawaii’s voter turnout by mandating all-mail elections is now headed to the full House of Representatives. House Bill 2541 cleared the Finance Committee after a hearing Tuesday. The bill calls for eventually mailing out all ballots and closing traditional polling places. The Aloha State has had the worst voter turnout in the country for the last five presidential elections. And just 35 percent of voters participated in the 2014 primary election, a record low. Oregon switched to all-mail ballots 20 years ago and has seen increased voter participation ever since. Washington and Colorado also vote exclusively by mail.
A slew of so-called good government bills cleared a critical legislative hurdle this week and are poised for final approval next week. But the measure that arguably would have had the most significant impact on Hawaii’s democracy did not make it across Friday’s deadline for bills to advance. House Bill 1401 would have enacted voting by mail uniformly across all counties for all elections in 2020. Rep. Scott Nishimoto, the lead House conferee on the bill as well as its author, told his counterpart, Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, shortly after 5 p.m. that both lawmakers agreed on many aspects of the bill. But Nishimoto did not get clearance from House leadership, and so HB 1401 will have to wait until next year.
Already, nearly half of people who vote in the state do so by mail. “This bill would change the way we vote in Hawaii in an attempt to increase voter participation and reduce costs,” Rep. Chris Todd, D-Hilo, wrote in a Facebook post. “HB 1401 would mean every registered voter receives a ballot in the mail and mails it back in — this process is already available by request, but this bill would make it the norm.” The bill passed third reading and House conferees were appointed to iron out wrinkles. Voters could still cast ballots in person if they prefer. But long lines at polling stations would presumably become a thing of the past. Each eligible voter would be mailed a ballot prior to an election and asked to mail it back.
Hawaii has the lowest voter turnout rate in the nation, according to a recent study released by Nonprofit VOTE and the U.S. Elections Project. And that’s not a new distinction. The 2016 “America Goes to the Polls” report reveals this is the fifth presidential election in a row in which the state has ranked dead last for voter participation. According to the study, approximately 3 out of 5 eligible voters in Hawaii did not cast a ballot during the last presidential election. The voter turnout rate for the 2016 presidential election was 43 percent. How does that compare to other states or the rest of the country as a whole?
Hawaii: Lawmakers to again consider vote-by-mail system, automatic voter registration | Hawaii News Now
Last legislative session, two bills aimed at addressing Hawaii’s low voter turnout failed to clear a final hurdle. Not even lawmakers can explain why. “We may not have felt we had the money to do that at this point,” state Sen. Karl Rhoads said. “Then there are people who just don’t think it’s the right move.” The proposed measures would have set up automatic voter registration and transition the state to mostly mail-in ballots. They’ll be introduced again this year. And Common Cause Hawaii is already gathering support for both bills. “People are even more concerned about making sure that their voices are heard and their votes are counted,” executive director Corie Tanida said. Both bills are aimed at addressing Hawaii’s chronically low voter turnout. Hawaii’s turnout in November was 58 percent, down from 62 percent four years earlier.
More than a thousand absentee ballots mailed in for the general election were not counted. Despite lingering questions about the process, elections officials will once again push for an all mail-in election. When Always Investigating looked into ballot irregularities for the primary election, we found out several hundred ballots were invalidated over missing or mismatched signatures. For the general election, that more than doubled. Despite that rate, all-mail-in voting is a real possibility. This week, the Hawaii Elections Commission prepares for its first meeting since the election to go over what went right and wrong. The agenda includes an all-mail initiative they’re backing at the Legislature again this year.
The death of one of Hawaii’s congressmen has led to an unusual ballot and voter confusion in urban Honolulu.
The rare double election means residents in the 1st Congressional District are selecting someone to fill the late U.S. Rep. Mark Takai’s seat for the two-month unfinished term and someone to represent the district for the next two years. Takai died in office last July. The situation could lead to two different people winning the same House seat on election night, to serve the two different terms. Former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is one of the candidates. The Democrat is hoping to return to her old seat in Congress, which she gave up to run for Senate two years ago.
A federal appeals court is upholding an earlier decision to support the way Hawaii holds its primary elections, rejecting the Democratic Party’s desire to exclude non-Democrats from advancing candidates to the general election. The Democratic Party of Hawaii had challenged the state’s open primary system where registered voters can choose any party’s ballot to cast their votes without formally joining the party. Party leaders wanted to limit primary elections to formal members or people willing to declare their allegiance, because they said the open primary system allows people from opposing parties to influence their party’s candidate selection. Judge Wallace Tashima of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said it was up to the Hawaii Democratic Party to prove that problem exists. But he said in an opinion Monday the party didn’t provide evidence that opponents are determining the Democratic Party’s election outcomes.
Hawaii voters will be asked who should serve out the remainder of the late Mark Takai’s term in Washington — possibly on the same day they decide who should represent the 1st Congressional District in the next term starting in January. A special winner-take-all election will most likely be held in conjunction with the Nov. 8 general election, according to the state Office of Elections. But the winner of that special election will only serve for two months — from Nov. 8 until the current session of Congress wraps up on Jan. 3, 2017. The Aug. 13 primary will go on as scheduled, as will the general election. Takai died Wednesday in Honolulu at the age of 49.
The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the the method the state Elections Office used to order an insufficient number of ballots in the 2012 general election should have undergone an official rule-making process instead of just being an internal management decision. The Green Party of Hawaii sued Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago and the state in December 2012, asking the courts to stop him from conducting another election until there were new rules in place to prevent the type of voter disenfranchisement that occurred that November. In all, 24 precincts ran out of ballots on Election Day, leading to long lines and some voters abandoning the effort. The lawsuit says 57 voters were denied the right to vote, and ballots had to be rushed to dozens of other precincts that ran low.
The deadline to register for the primary election on Aug. 13 is next Thursday. And to get more people signed up, the state will be hosting registration events statewide. “We’ll be having them statewide — three on the Big Island, one on Maui, one on Kauai and one here on O’ahu,” said Scott Nago, the state’s chief election officer. The drive, which will include new TV ads, is aimed at changing Hawaii’s last-in-the-nation ranking for voter turnout. And voting officials say they’re hopeful this year, not least of which because a new online registration system has already resulted in more residents signed up.
There’s no dispute that the 2012 general election was marred by widespread ballot shortages that caused confusion and delays at many polling places. Now the Hawaii Supreme Court will have to decide what, if anything, needs to be done about it. The court heard oral arguments last week in the appeal of a lawsuit brought by the Green Party of Hawaii and seven individual voters stemming from the 2012 ballot fiasco. The plaintiff’s contend the methods and procedures for printing and handling ballots are in fact agency rules that should have been adopted pursuant to the state’s Administrative Procedures Act. They sought a ruling that elections officials be required to go through the public rule-making process before applying them in future elections.
Two bills aimed at making it easier to vote will head into conference committee today at the state Legislature. The legislation would allow residents to automatically register to vote when applying or renewing a driver’s license and would start a vote-by-mail program. The House and Senate each passed versions of the bills. Lawmakers will be tasked with working out the differences. The registration measure, House Bill 401, would give residents the option of registering to vote or updating their voter information while taking care of their license. Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-Kona, is a co-sponsor. HB 1653 in its latest form would require the state Office of Elections to start a vote-by-mail program incrementally. Mail ballots currently are limited to absentee voters.
Saturday marked the first time Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders swept a full round of caucuses, defeating front-runner Hillary Clinton in all three of the day’s presidential contests. But when the mainstream media was nearly silent on his victory, voters took the electoral process into their own hands. Overnight, a Google document built by a handful of strangers became the go-to source for the caucus results. Its creators were the first to project Sanders’ victory, as the mainstream media waited on stalling, overwhelmed caucus organizers. As organizers in Hawaii scrambled to gather results, Alec Salisbury compiled his own set of stats from his computer in his Ithaca College dorm. With a group of three to 10 strangers, the 20-year-old college student broke the story of Sanders’ landslide victory.
Despite the fact that Hawaii has two official languages, only one of them is offered on voters’ ballots. English and Hawaiian are the state’s official languages, and lawmakers are pushing a bill to offer both on ballots. Right now, English, Japanese, Cantonese and Ilocano must be offered on ballots in some counties. “I thought it was a little silly that we don’t already have the Hawaiian language on the ballot – it’s an official language,” said Rep. Kaniela Ing, who introduced the bill.
State lawmakers are considering a bill that would give some Hawaii felons and prisoners the right to vote. Supporters say the loss of voting rights disproportionately affects minorities, who often experience higher rates of incarceration. They say losing the right to vote undermines the democratic process. “It makes a lot of sense when you think why people commit crimes in the first place,” said Rep. Kaniela Ing, who introduced the bill. “They feel like they’re not a part of the system.”
Opponents say people who commit serious crimes may not be trustworthy, and losing the right to vote is an added punishment.
A group of Hawaiians seeking to create a new tribal nation inside the state moved on Monday to head off a contempt order in the Supreme Court. They have done nothing to violate a Supreme Court order a month ago that blocked an election to select delegates to a convention to write a constitution, the group argued. They told the Court that they were going ahead with a convention, and contended that they had a First Amendment right to do so. That appeared to be an attempt to prevent a further attempt to interrupt the path toward a new nation. Their defense of their actions in recent weeks was siupported by the state government.Several Hawaii residents have formally asked the Supreme Court to hold in contempt the private group that ran, and then ended, the election for delegates.
Facing a potential court battle that could go on for years, Na‘i Aupuni announced this morning that it will cancel the Native Hawaiian election and proceed to a four-week convention in February. All 196 Hawaiians who ran as candidates will be offered seats as delegates to the convention, or ‘aha, said Na‘i Aupuni President Kuhio Asam. “Our goal has always been to create a path so that Hawaiians can gather and have a serious and much-needed discussion about self-governance,” Asam said at a downtown Honolulu press conference this morning. “We anticipated that the path would have twists and turns and some significant obstacles, but we are committed to proceeding to the ‘aha where this long-overdue conversation can take place,” he said.