Gov. proposes mail-in elections in Hawaii, lawmakers like the idea

Gov. proposes mail-in elections in Hawaii, lawmakers like the idea
Published: Nov. 26, 2012 at 11:31 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 27, 2012 at 12:04 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Monday he wants Hawaii to move toward 100 percent mail-in voting, following the lead of two other states, Oregon and Washington.  It's a move supported by state lawmakers.

"I think a mail-in ballot is a sensible thing to do in our state, particularly with our multiple islands and remote electoral precincts, etc.," Abercrombie told reporters at a news conference at the State Capitol Monday afternoon. "I think it makes good sense and I think more and more people are doing it. The proof of that is in so-called absentee ballots."

"If almost half of those voting right now are already voting early, then why not maximize the opportunity to vote early by making it as easy as possible, and the mail-in ballot seems to me is just a sensible, cost-effective way," Abercrombie added.

It's unclear how much all this would cost. State elections officials have estimated taxpayers would spend about the same amount of money. That's because while the state would save money by not having to hire precinct workers or rent polling places, mail-in balloting would require postage costs and more handling and preparation of the mail-in ballots, said Rex Quidilla a spokesman for the state's Office of Elections.

State lawmakers would have to approve such a change, and House Speaker Calvin Say (D- Palolo, Kaimuki) supports the idea, since he's voted by mail in the last four elections.

"Very easy. Very convenient.  Just sign your John Hancock with the outside envelope and that's it. Nah, it's much more simple, much more easy," Say said.

Say added that mail-in voting avoids election-day problems that are impossible to predict.

"If there's a big, let's say, water line break on Farrington Highway, the residents won't be able to go to the schools that the precincts are located," Say said.

State Rep. Chris Lee (D Lanikai, Waimanalo) went to college and worked in Oregon, where he lived for six years and he voted in several elections by mail there.

"I think it's got a lot of potential.  I think states like Oregon have proven that it works.  And because we're one of the states that need more voter turnout.  This is one of the way to engage people and make that happen," Lee said.

State Rep. Gilbert Keith-Agaran (D-Kahului, Paia) chairs the State House Judiciary Committee through which would have to approve an election change.

"I'll be open to looking at all those issues," Agaran said, noting that he was the co-introducer of a bill for mail-in balloting in the 2011 legislative session, a proposal that did not advance out of the House Finance committee.

Abercrombie also has asked Attorney General David Louie to investigate the state Office of Elections and the circumstances that resulted in the shortage of paper ballots at 24 polling places Election Day.

"This serious problem has tarnished the election process and eroded public confidence," Abercrombie said.

State Senate President Shan Tsutsui (D-Wailuku, Kahului) released a statement that said, "During the upcoming session, the Senate will consider all bills for proposed improvement to the State's election system.   We also look forward to considering recommendations based on any investigation or analysis conducted by the Elections Commission or Attorney General that address the problems that occurred during the 2012 elections."

"With thoughtful consideration of all information available, the Senate will work to determine what changes, if any, should be made to the current system to ensure the rights of the voters of Hawaii are protected," Tsutsui added.

State Senate Vice President Donna Mercado Kim (D-Moanalua, Aiea, Kalihi Valley) said she'd support the idea of mail-in balloting while still allowing early walk-in voting at a few locations.

"With technology, I think it's about time that we seriously look into it.  We already do mail-in absentee ballots.  So I don't think it's going to be any different," Kim said.

"Mail in will trickle in.  So it's not going to come in all in one day.  And so you can hopefully manage. Certainly you're going to get the bulk at the deadline, but it's not all by 7 o'clock or 6 o'clock on Election Day," Kim said.

If the state went to an all-mail-in election, taxpayers would save money on leasing machines that scan and count walk-in ballots but would have to spend more money on those that handle mail-in ballots, Quidilla said.

The state already has a contract in place with Hart InterCivic for the 2014 elections that would have to be scrapped or amended if the legislature and the governor agree on phasing in more mail-in voting for the next election in two years, Quidilla said.

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