We are all still reeling from 2020. We long for the days before this pandemic when we took the kisses and hugs with which we greeted each other for granted. If social distancing and masking are the public health orders of the day, I see 2021 as the year in which we must restore the fraying ties that bind us. We must strengthen our commitment to help each other to rebuild our fractured lives.
As the new Chair of the Board of Trustees, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to lead this work of repairing and rebuilding within the context of the mission of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. I am committed to doing all I can to move forward OHA’s Strategic Plan which prioritizes the urgent needs of our beneficiaries for better education, healthcare, quality housing and economic stability. Native Hawaiians are taking the brunt of the impact of COVID-19 and also disproportionately represent the houseless. While the problems are many and obvious to all, the move towards solutions is far slower than it should be.
Those affected by policy decisions need to be sure that their interests are represented when policy is crafted. That starts with voting. Yet with so many struggling to make ends meet, challenged with being so distant from urban centers and by limited access to the internet, registering to vote is no longer a priority for eligible voters.
There is a commonsense, cost and time-saving solution: enact Automatic Voter Registration (AVR). Simply meaning, that when someone renews or receives a new driver’s license or State ID, their voter information will be sent electronically to the County Elections Division – unless they opt out. This way, their voter registration is updated and current for the next election. Yes, there is same day voter registration in Hawaiʻi, but witnessing long lines on Election Day at the handful of voter service centers across the islands tell us that there is definitely room to further modernize and streamline our election process.
At a time of unseemly attacks on our democracy, it behooves us to take whatever steps necessary to protect the opportunity for people to make their voices heard. And if AVR promises to save time and money, is there any logical reason not to do it? I don’t think so.
I know that my ability to steer the OHA Board of Trustees depends on the full engagement of our beneficiaries and those who have been elected to serve them. Similarly, the ability of our elected officials to steer the state through the rough waters that we know lie ahead depends on the full engagement of voters. Elections officials and volunteers deserve our thanks for all they did to ensure that Vote by Mail went so smoothly and successfully this year with thousands more voting. But thousands still did not. Among them are many of our beneficiaries who may not even be registered to vote because they are too busy addressing the struggles of housing, education, healthcare, and paying for groceries. But these are people whose interests must also be represented.
As OHA Trustees look forward to working closer with beneficiaries, we are duty-bound to serve by being more attentive to all voices. I hope the legislature will be equally eager to close the distance between the people and its government by making AVR law this year. It is the logical next step after the success of Vote by Mail.
AVR will make it easier for many more people to practice their right, as citizens of this state, and country to vote. E nā ʻŌiwi, e hoʻolono mai i nā leo kupa. (We the people, hear our voices.)