According to new rankings, Hawaii places No. 32 among all states in voter turnout, with a depressing 36.5 percent of citizens who are eligible to vote casting ballots in 2014. While that is about the same as the national average and better than our state’s performance in 2010, to put it mildly, there’s plenty room for improvement. Vote-by-mail bills currently before the Legislature stand a chance of significantly boosting the number of people taking part in our democracy. House Bill 124 and Senate Bill 287 would phase in voting by mail, introducing the practice first in counties with fewer than 100,000 residents in 2016 and extending it statewide by 2020. Ballots would be mailed directly to voters, who would then complete and return them by mail. No braving rush-hour traffic to get to a polling place, waiting in line or dealing with fussy optical scanners.
The bills provide for a limited number of “voter service centers” to open on election days to assist voters with special needs and receive absentee and mail-in ballots in person. Election-day voter registration, passed last year by the Legislature, would remain intact under both bills – a good idea, even with voting by mail: States with election-day registration had about 12 percent high turnout than those that didn’t in 2014.
Both bills enjoy strong support and stand a good chance of passage by the Senate and House.
Legislators supporting these bills recognize that 2014 marked the first Hawaii election in which more early votes were cast than on Election Day. Of those early ballots, 83 percent were mailed in by absentee voters. Further adapting to this trend, as Oregon, Colorado and Washington state have already done through statewide vote-by-mail laws, “would significantly reduce the logistical issues related to conducting elections,” says SB287.