The League of Women Voters strongly supports S.B. 2801 which would allow those who have failed to register before the deadline to register on Election Day at their polling sites with the presentation of proper documentation of place of residence.
Election year after election year, Hawaii’s voter participation has been decreasing and we now find ourselves in the embarrassing position of being the state with the lowest percentage of citizens engaged in this important activity. The League supports every viable modification of our election laws that might encourage voters to go to the polls on Election Day.
Election Day Registration or EDR, also known as Same Day Registration, allows eligible voters to register and cast a ballot on Election Day, and has proven to increase voter participation in a number of states on the mainland. These include Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Connecticut also has EDR, but only for casting votes for the Presidency. Iowa and North Carolina have passed similar legislation to allow for same-day voter registration and began to use them in January of 2008 and October of 2007, respectively. EDR states experience some of the highest turnout rates in the country and in fact, have consistently boasted higher voter turnout than non-EDR states for over 25 years. In the 2004 presidential race, EDR states had an average turnout 12% higher than that of non-EDR states. Understanding that they can reduce unnecessary barriers to participation and empower their residents, many states are considering EDR. In fact, active EDR campaigns are underway in Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and of course, Hawaii.
Too many people don’t really get engaged in election campaigns until very close to election day, when they hear family, friends, fellow workers, and other associates talking about their choices, be it candidates or ballot issues. They are encouraged to vote only to find it too late to register. We should offer these people an opportunity to do so.
There is always a first time any person votes, or begins to vote again after some non-involvement because of circumstances in their lives. I do not remember the first time I voted; I know it wasn’t when I first became eligible. Once I did, I have not missed a single election. There are many others like me, for whom that first experience leads to a lifetime of participation.
Another reason for adopting EDR is that the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) rules call for providing provisional ballots for those who have been mistakenly or even correctly dropped from the data bases. This requires post-election checking to see if some or all are really eligible and the results added to the total counts. EDR would eliminate the need for provisional ballots except for those who are unable to produce the required documents to prove their place of residence.
Post-election, to verify the information on the registration forms, non-forwardable cards could be sent to each EDR voter before permanently enrolling them in the Registered Voters data base.
The most loudly-voiced reason for opposition to EDR is supposedly the fear of fraud. EDR does not result in individual voter fraud. Election officials in EDR states are as vigilant as election officials elsewhere about safeguarding against fraud. In fact, a bipartisan team of consultants to the Election Assistance Commission reported widespread agreement that very little evidence existed of voter impersonation at the polls.
A case of alleged questionable registration forms was investigated by election officials in the City & County of Honolulu and found that the very few who had illegally registered had done so through ignorance of our laws limiting voting to citizens, and not for fraudulent purposes.
A prime example of voter suppression in the 2000 presidential election was Florida. While not the only state involved, it had the spotlight turned on it because of the pivotal role it played as the state which determined the presidential “winner” in a very tight race. Deliberate disenfranchisement was alleged through the purging of registered voter data bases of people more likely to vote for the Democratic candidate. Allegations were made about other ways that voter suppression was carried out. There were cases of fewer and/or older improperly
maintained voter machines in certain precincts; turning away voters already in line when the scheduled poll closing time arrived; sending out misinformation to voters in certain precincts; and countless other incredible schemes.
EDR could at least enfranchise once more those who have been deliberately and even mistakenly purged from the registered voter data base, and this would be a big victory for those who want to restore integrity to our election system.
Election Day Registration significantly increases the opportunity for all citizens to cast a vote and participate in democracy. EDR allows eligible voters who may have been mistakenly purged from the voting rolls to cast a meaningful ballot. It also assists young voters, since many young Americans move frequently - for school or for jobs, for example - which makes it harder for them to register to vote. EDR could counter the reduced registration rates that their mobility causes by allowing them to register at the last moment and vote. In fact, EDR could increase youth turnout in presidential elections by 12% or more.
EDR enfranchises geographically mobile and lower-income citizens. A large number of the 40 million Americans who moved between 2004 and 2005 had incomes of less than $25,000. Many of these individuals miss the registration deadline in their new election districts, and thus cannot vote. EDR would allow these people to re-register on Election Day and cast a ballot.
EDR is cost-effective and easier for elections officials to administer than provisional ballots. An authoritative study indicates that elections are no more expensive to administer in EDR states than elsewhere.
We strongly urge you to pass S.B. 2801, but with great reluctance suggest that it be implemented for the 2010 election. This is in consideration that it is only now, in February, 2008 that the newly-hired Chief Elections Officer is in place, and new vote count systems have been selected. It will take time to train the trainers, the precinct workers and the public on the use of these machines. Elections officials have a great deal on their plates, which is why we hesitate to recommend EDR be implemented for the 2008 elections.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.