With Hawaii’s voter turnout in the 2016 election at only 55 percent (down from 66 percent in 2012) of registered voters, it’s time to look at new ways to add voters to the voter rolls. Democracy works better when more people participate, and with such dismal participation rates, a law that puts the onus on the citizenry to decline to participate further may be called for. Online voter registration is now available, and same-day registration will be an option in 2018. But one action the Legislature can take in its next session is to allow automatic voter registration when you apply for or renew a driver’s license or state ID. Currently when eligible citizens apply for or renew their driver’s license or state ID, they have to fill out a voter affidavit in addition to the standard application form in order to be registered to vote. Automatic voter registration reverses this. Instead of having to opt into the registration program, all eligible citizens are registered to vote by default, except for those who choose not to be.
Additionally, voter registration information would be electronically transferred from the licensing agency to the county clerk for processing, eliminating the need for the physical transfer of paper forms and manual data entry.
HB 1652 made it through several committee hearings with support from the Office of Elections and the League of Women Voters. Common Cause Hawaii supported the bill, and has called automatic voter registration an important part of “a system that will make it significantly easier to register to vote.” Unfortunately HB 1652 was stalled in the Senate. HB 401 failed to survive conference committee after making it past the House and Senate.