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LWV-Hawaii Legislative Testimony

HB 124 HD2

Relating to

Senate Committee on Ways and Means (WAM) - chair: Jill N. Tokuda, vice chair: Ronald D. Kouchi

Thursday, April 2, 2015, 2:00 p.m., Room 211

Testifier: Brad Clark, Legislative Committee Member, LWV of Hawaii

Click here to view HB124 HD2

Chair Tokuda, Vice-Chair Kouchi, and Committee Members:

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii supports the intent of HB124, HD2, SD1 to implement elections by mail in Hawaii. We support the HD2 version of this bill and offer comments about recent changes made by the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee.

A phased in approach similar to that outlined in this SD1 is appropriate. The bill calls for vote-by-mail in counties of less than 100,000 population in the primary elections of 2016, in one or more counties with a population less than 500,000 in the 2018 primary and full statewide implementation in 2020. To prevent any confusion regarding the County of Kalawao, it would be more appropriate to state that vote-by-mail elections will be implemented in Kaua`i County in 2016, adding Maui and Hawai`i Counties in the 2018 primary with full implementation statewide in 2020. We defer to the Office of Elections and the Honolulu County Clerk about whether it would be more advantageous to include Oahu in 2018 rather than 2020.

We have serious concerns about voter registration services as described in this version of the measure , which subverts the purpose of Act 166 (passed in 2014), by eliminating a “Late Registration” section of the bill and substituting a more narrow provision in Section 1 (4) that appears to greatly limit the duration of time when voter service centers would be open. Instead the SD1 provides for “a limited number of voter services centers in each county to remain open on the day of Elections.” The League of Women voters strongly opposes any effort to eliminate late voter registration services as enacted in Act 166 in 2014.

Absentee walk-in polling places are already provided at the offices of the City or County Clerk where the voter resides, though at this time days and hours vary across the State. The “Voter Service Centers” required under this bill are intended to replace these absentee walk-in polling places.

But beginning in 2016 Act 166 Section 15-7 (b) requires that “absentee polling places should be open not later than 10 days before election day, and all Saturdays falling within that time period, or as soon thereafter as ballots are available; provided that all absentee polling places shall be open on the same dates statewide, as determined by the chief election officer.” This standard should apply to all Voter Service Centers. Likewise, the bill should specify when places of deposit would be available. Because there will be a phased in implementation of voting by mail, beginning in 2018 any district polls that remain open anywhere in the State must offer voter registration services on Election Day as provided under Act 166; otherwise, voters will lose some of the registration services required by law.

No doubt some voters will spoil or lose their mailed ballot. This measure provides for replacing the ballot but does not provide an adequate remedy for the voter who wishes to replace their original ballot when Election Day is imminent. We support the voter’s right to request that the replacement ballot be forwarded by electronic transmission within five days of an election; these procedures are outlined in SB124, HD2 Section 11-B (d).

The measure specifies that counting of mail-in ballots should begin no sooner than the seventh day before an election. This start date makes sense, but we think it is fine for these ballots to be counted as they are received, as long as any tabulation of votes including counting center printouts and other disclosures are not disclosed to the public until voting for the elections has concluded. Beginning the count earlier than Election Day allows for more prompt reporting of election results. Language permitting counting ballots as they are received is provided for under the HD2 version of this bill.

In Section 9, 11-184 regarding sharing responsibilities and expenses between the state and the county, the language suggested by the Office of Elections and incorporated into the HD1 and HD2 versions of the bill is preferable to that contained in the SD1. The SD1 language is not as fair; for example, it would require the state to pay for election costs for elections which are solely for county offices.

Section 3, 2. Page .10 of this bill which defines a ballot includes language which says "It shall also include the face of the mechanical voting machine when arranged with cardboard or other material within the ballot frames, containing the names of the candidates and questions to be voted on." This appears to be old language referring to lever voting machines which are no longer in use. We suggest that this language be taken from the bill and new language that reflects the use of electronic voting devices be put in its place.

Whether voting by mail succeeds in Hawaii will depend in large part on the strength of the distribution system, including the number of places of deposit and the number of voter service centers. Section 6, 11-92.1 correctly states that there should not be a minimum number of places of deposit; that these places of deposit shall be provided only if the locations and apparatus can be securely maintained. Likewise, we support the provision of at least one voter service center on each island, except for islands that conduct absentee ballot-only elections (or should it be “vote-by-mail only elections”). Our understanding is this means Kalawao County and Niihau would not have voter service centers, but Maui, Molokai and Lanai as well as Kauai, Hawaii Island and Oahu would have at least one voter service center on the island.

All versions of vote-by-mail bills from this session provide for an “Election Proclamation” listing all places of deposit and voter service centers.” We suggest uniform standards statewide for hours of operation for Voter Service Centers (which will eventually replace all district polling places which have standard hours of operation). Likewise, the Election Proclamation should include these hours of operation as well as hours when the Places of Deposit will be available. These simple steps can avoid confusion for voters.

This bill allows for an appropriation which is important. A vote-by-mail system will initially require a small capital investment to procure the equipment necessary to process ballots for all voters. However, there will be long term savings associated with vote-by-mail. The office of elections estimates that a vote-by-mail system would save a minimum of $874,000 per election cycle.

We urge you to consider the amendments we have suggested and pass this measure. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony.


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