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.
Articles about voting issues in Hawaii.
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?
Dale Kobayashi is still smarting. Six months after narrowly losing a state legislative race to Rep. Isaac Choy, the longtime Manoa resident wishes Hawaii had a recount law on the books. Kobayashi lost to Choy in the Democratic primary in August by 70 votes out of more than 5,400 votes cast. Choy won with 47.6 percent of the vote compared with 46.4 for Kobayashi. “When a race is so close, you want to double-check the count,” Kobayashi said Wednesday. Kobayashi, the son of Honolulu City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, is already planning to run again in 2018. And if the race is close again, Kobayashi just might get that recount — if a bill making its way through the Legislature this session becomes law.
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.