In the 1960s, Hawaii had the highest voter turnout in the nation. Fifty years later, it is now 50th among the 50 states. Now, state lawmakers are considering a measure to reverse the trend by allowing same-day voter registration.
According to the State Elections Office, only 42 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2012 primary election. Just under 62 percent turned out in the general election. House Bill 2590 would allow voter registrations at early-voting sites in 2016, and same-day registration in 2018. Same-day voter registration is already allowed in eleven states and the District of Columbia.
"This bill seeks to scrap that shameful label and foster a stronger public voice," said state Rep. Kaniela Ing (D-South Maui), who sponsored the measure. "It's time to take our turnout and turn it around."
Supporters contend that allowing same-day registration will increase voter turnout by five to eight percentage points.
The Elections Office supports the measure, but at least one lawmakers remains skeptical.
"First of all I still have a gripe with the Elections Office and the elections process from two years ago," said Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai, Kahala), referring to ballot shortages in the general election. "You know, they screwed up badly. There were no sanctions or anything else from that. There's the possibility of fraud."
"There are existing provisions in the law to prevent voter fraud," said Ing. "It's a felony if you try to lie at the polls in registration or voting, and it's not really worth it just for an extra vote. It doesn't happen. It's really a non-issue."
Honolulu's City Clerk came out against the measure, saying it doesn't address the cost of what it would take to handle same-day registrations at polling places. Neighbor island counties said there would be the possibility for confusion and fraud.
In written testimony, the Hawaii County Clerk said, "Maximizing voter registration is one of the most important functions of our office. It is equally important that we maintain the integrity of the voter registration list."
"It's not getting people to register," said Slom. "It's getting people to vote. It goes far beyond the registration process."
The measure has a final reading Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the State Capitol. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn Thursday.