Chair Luke, Vice Chair Nishimoto, and Committee Members:
The League of Women Voters of Hawai`i supports SB 287, SD2, HD1 with amendments which would require the Office of Elections to implement an election by mail system throughout the State by 2020.
We support the establishment of vote-by-mail elections in Hawai`i and the phased in approach in SB 287, SD2, HD1 is appropriate. This bill establishes vote-by-mail in counties of less than 100,000 population in 2016, in counties with a population of under 500,000 in 2018 and full state implementation in 2020. We believe that it would be more appropriate to list specific counties and dates of implementation to prevent any confusion regarding the County of Kalawao. We suggest that the bill be amended to state that vote-by-mail elections will be implemented in Kaua`i County in 2016, adding Maui and Hawai`i counties in 2018 and the City and County of Honolulu in 2020.
This bill must be amended to clearly state that voters may register to vote and vote at a voter service center during the 10 days prior to an election and on Election Day. This could be accomplished by adding this language to Section 11-D (d) "ASSIST WITH VOTER REGISTRATION SERVICES AS PRESCRIBED BY LAW."
To preserve the right of voters to register to vote as outlined in Act 166, Section 2 (d) 4 page 10 of this bill should be amended to correct the effective date. On January 1, 2016 voter service centers on Kauai (like absentee walk in centers on all other islands) should offer late and same day registration. Beginning in 2018, late registration and same day registration would also be available at Voter Service Centers in Maui and Hawaii Counties. In 2020 late and same day registration would be offered at Voter Service centers statewide. To follow a different schedule is to thwart the intent of Act 166 designed to improve the voter registration process for the estimated 400 thousand people eligible to vote but unregistered. We cannot hope to significantly improve our dismal voter turnout without more people registering to vote.
The League of Women Voters supports the establishment of voter service centers in each county and the requirement that these centers provide for late voter registration and voting. Though the bill contains provisions for requesting a replacement ballot through the mail or by electronic transmission, the establishment of voter service centers helps guarantee that voters who have lost, damaged or did not receive a ballot are able to vote. In addition these voter service centers will allow voters who wish to, to vote in person, ensure that Hawai`i is in compliance with federal law by having accessible voting equipment available at these centers and should clearly allow voters who have missed the registration deadline to register and vote.
This bill allows for the processing and counting of ballots beginning seven days before an election. We believe that this is appropriate as it will allow for the timely processing of the thousands of ballots that will be received by mail. Section 11-C(a) of the bill states in part "any tabulation of the number of votes cast for a candidate or question appearing on the ballot, including a counting center print out, or other disclosure, shall be kept confidential and shall not be disclosed to the public until voting for the election has concluded." The current language implies that counting center printouts or other "disclosure" could be available prior to their release. Vote totals should not be accessible to anyone prior to the close of polls on Election Day. We suggest that the bill be amended to ensure that no vote totals are viewed prior to the close of polls. As an example California election law allows clerks to begin processing voted ballots 10 business days before the election but California Elections Code section 15101 states, in part, “under no circumstances may a vote count be accessed or released until 8 p.m. on the day of the election."
There is some confusion in the bill as to which official is responsible for mailing and processing the vote-by-mail ballots. Section 11-B (b) states in part, "the county clerk shall mail ballot packages by nonforwardable mail to each registered voter in the county no sooner than thirty days before the date of an election." However, later in the bill section 7 amends HRS section 11-91.5 (g)(2) to read "The State shall be responsible for preparing, mailing, processing, and tabulating mail ballots, even where there are no federal or State offices on the ballot." This section implies that all processing of ballots in an all-mail election will be the responsibility of the State. We believe that centralizing the ballot mailing, processing and tabulating in one location would be an efficient and cost effective method of conducting an election by mail. However, this is a significant change over current procedures and therefore this section needs clarification.
This bill allows for an appropriation which we expect will be small. We depend on the office of elections and county clerks to articulate what is needed to conduct elections by mail. We recommend that adequate funding be made available to conduct voter education efforts and acquire needed equipment to implement this important voting change in Hawai`i. In the long run, voting by mail will is estimated to by the Office of Elections to save $874,000 per election cycle.
The League is in favor of a system of elections by mail in Hawai`i and will support this measure if it is amended to ensure that late and Election Day registration are maintained. Thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony.