Chair Rhoads, Vice-Chair Har, and Committee Members:
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii strongly opposes HB 1195 which proposes to delete the definition of “Chief Elections Officer, “ from our State Elections Administration and move the current functions of the Chief Elections Officer to the Lieutenant Governor’s office, with supervision of elections provided by the Lieutenant Governor.
The person who runs Hawaii’s State and Federal elections should be nonpolitical and nonpartisan. Currently, Hawaii’s Chief Elections Officer is appointed by the state Elections Commission, and the appointment is not subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.
Under HRS Chapter 11, Part 11-1.6 the Chief Elections Officer is now specifically prohibited from supporting, advocating or aiding in the election or defeat of any candidate for public office. How would this be possible with an elected Lieutenant Governor overseeing the State elections operations? It wouldn’t.
The Chief Elections Officer should be nonpartisan and of demonstrated integrity, independence, and public credibility, and our current procedure for selecting and confirming a Chief Elections Officer is just that - designed to assure that the person is viewed by the major political parties as nonpartisan. The Elections Commission itself is composed of 2 members appointed by the Senate President, 2 members appointed by the Senate Minority Leader, 2 members appointed by the Speaker of the House, 2 members appointed by the House Minority Leader and 1 member selected by a two-thirds vote of the Elections
Commission who serves as Chairperson. Political parties are well represented on the Commission, and together they settle on a Chief Elections Officer who is acceptable to the major political parties.
What’s happened recently in other states that use an elected official model for election administration? In Colorado, Secretary of State Scott Gessler declared his intent to "further the conservative agenda" and encouraged "True the Vote," a group of volunteer election watchers which aimed to gum up the works on Election Day by flooding polling places in several states with poll challengers. 1
In Ohio, A federal appeals court on October 5, 2012 sided with the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party in their July 2012 lawsuit against Ohio and its Secretary of State Jon Husted over a restriction prohibiting many voters (except those covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voter Act) from casting ballots on the final weekend before the November election. The state had argued that "local county boards of elections are too busy preparing for Election Day to accommodate early voters" and that "unique challenges faced by military service members and their families justify maintaining
in-person early voting for them but not for other Ohio voters." 2
Such partisan entanglements undermine public confidence in and raise fundamental questions about the integrity of our elections. The right to vote is sacred to every American, and the people in charge of our elections should be in the business of protecting that right for everybody, regardless of their personal or political biases. The League of Women Voters believes Hawaii is taking a hard look at its elections administration to ensure the kind of voter confidence that flows naturally from truly nonpartisan elections. Let’s not make our challenges worse by adding the entanglement of partisanship to the mix.
We urge you to hold this bill. Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony.