Chair Rhoads, Vice-Chair Har, and Committee Members:
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii strongly supports House Bill 321 that provides a process for voter registration on election day at polling places (this is sometimes called “election day registration” or “same day registration”).
Why are there so many people in Hawaii not registered to vote? Today, approximately 270 thousand residents of Hawaii who are eligible to vote are still not registered to vote. This represents almost 28% of eligible persons. 1
The League of Women Voters does not fully understand why Hawaii residents are not registering to vote. Some of the people who are eligible choose not to vote or have let their registrations lapse; others might want to vote, but are very busy, haven’t bothered to register or don’t know how to register. In Hawaii we can even register to vote by mail, and elections officials are committed to registering voters. But this measure would open up our registration process further, where the current options present a barrier to unregistered but eligible voters.
We think lack of registration is probably the leading reason for Hawaii’s consistently low voting rate. In the 2012 Hawaii general elections, the voting rate for all eligible persons of voting age was only 44.5% percent, while the voting rate for people who were registered to vote was considerably higher at 61.9%, showing that registration is key to turnout. 2
Eight states plus the District of Columbia presently offer same-day registration (SDR), allowing any qualified resident of the state to go to the polls on Election Day, register that day, and then vote. Another two states--California and Connecticut--have enacted same-day registration but have not yet implemented it. 3 These states are taking steps to ensure that eligible voters are not turned away because of errors in their registrations or failure to register before Election Day.
States that allow same day registration have consistently led the nation in voter participation. The evidence demonstrates that same day registration leads to increased voter turnout. In the six Same Day Registration (SDR) states that had SDR prior to 2006 and North Dakota (which has no voter registration), turnout is 10 percent to 17 percent higher than the national average. Minnesota estimates that Election Day registrations account for five percent to ten percent of voter turnout. 4
Experts have also projected substantial voter turnout increases in states that are considering adopting SDR, including Hawaii. In a 2011 study, overall turnout here was estimated to go up by 5.3 percent. Turnout among those aged 18 to 25 could increase by 9.2 percent, and turnout for those who have moved in the last six months could increase by 7.3 percent. 5
And speaking of changing residences, we point out that it is a tremendous challenge for our County Clerks to keep voter registration records current. A major reason is our residents move frequently. 6 Election Day registration should make it easier for our election officials to update registration records for accuracy when voters move and/or change their name.
In Hawaii, the deadline to register for elections is one month before each election. The League of Women Voters does not think this date is arbitrary, because it allows sufficient time for the hard-working County elections officials to receive and process manual voter registration affidavits and re-registration affidavits in time for Election Day. But does the thirty-day deadline still make sense, particularly when Hawaii will have a statewide online voter registration database by 2016?
In spite of diligent efforts on the part of elections officials, inevitably some voters are left without recourse when faced with registration problems on election day that threaten their right to vote. While we do not believe it will ever be possible to eliminate all human error, the Election Day registration proposed in HB 321 can be an important fail-safe against the unintentional disenfranchisement that can result from administrative error or voter confusion in the registration process. Poll workers do report to the League that inaccurate rolls take their toll on Election Day. Poor registration data can slow down the check-in process and lengthen voter lines (and raise tempers).
The League of Women Voters recognizes that elections officials reasonably worry that SDR would make their jobs more difficult or would be expensive to implement. About one-third of respondents to an elections official survey reported the workload impact as modest or marginal, and the incremental cost of SDR as minimal. 7
Safeguards to prevent fraud must be adopted along with SDR, and we are pleased to see these are proposed in this measure:a signed affidavit from the voter affirming they are qualified to vote, will not vote at any other polling place for that election, and will not cast an absentee ballot for that election;.requiring proof of residence showing current address, and to verify the address, a second document that contains the name and address of the individual ;
It appears from Section 11-1 (e) that Office of Elections would segregate SDR ballots, and refrain from counting them until verification letters have been sent out to the voter and undeliverable letters are returned.
The League respectfully suggests that in addition to the safeguards enumerated in the measure, your Committee should specify that fraud associated with SDR is subject to the election fraud provisions of Chapter 15, Hawaii Revised Statutes. As reported in a survey of elections officials in states that already provide SDR, the great majority of respondents rated fraud protection measures sufficient to protect the integrity of elections. This was the opinion in both large and small jurisdictions. 8
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii encourages all people who are eligible to vote to register and to cast an informed vote in all elections. We believe that government should make registration and re-registration easy, while assuring that the basic requirements of citizenship, age, and residency are met.
We are encouraged that last year Hawaii enacted a law to provide for online voter registration by 2016, but we think HB 321 would also encourage registration and voting. This measure would establish one-stop voting where a person would be permitted to register to vote and immediately vote on Election Day or at any time prior to Election Day when ballots may be cast.
Hawaii’s democracy needs an upgrade, and there’s no better place to start than with our voter registration processes and records. We urge you to pass HB321. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony.
1 Source: Number of eligible voters is from City and County Data released in November 2012; estimated number of voting eligible population is from U.S. Elections Project, 2012 general election figures.
2Hawaii Office of Elections Factsheet - FSVS505H Rev. 01/08/13
3 National Conference of State Legislatures, February 19, 2013.
5 Alvarez, R. Michael and Jonathan Nagler, “ELECTION DAY VOTER REGISTRATION IN HAWAII,” Demos, February 16, 2011.
6 Over a three-year period, 2005-2007, 163,000 people moved into Hawaii and 190,000 moved out, according to the Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends. This figure about frequency of moving doesn’t include the number of residents who are moving within Hawaii, but it does illustrates the challenge facing our County Clerks.
7 “Election Day Registration: a Ground-Level View: What Local Officials have Learned about Letting Americans Register and Vote on the Same Day,” Demos, February 6, 2013.