According to the State Office of Elections, as of December 30, 2019, there are 767,278 registered voters. Nearly 80,000 voters have an outdated or non-deliverable address. According to the new Vote by Mail Law, a ballot packet shall not be mailed to “any voter in the county register who is identified as having an outdated or non-deliverable mailing address.” That is approximately 11% of the total number of registered voters. Please make sure you are not one of those who will not get a ballot in the mail because you have an outdated address on file.
Starting this year, all of Hawai‘i will vote by mail (VBM). It is essential that everyone go to olvr.hawaii.gov/ and make sure their name, address and other essential information is current and accurate. Those who like to vote in person should not expect to go to their normal polling stations. At best, there will be a very small number of voter service centers. Everyone will receive their ballot in the mail and return it by mail in the envelope provided—if their address is current. This saves all of us, and the state, time and money. It makes access to voting easier for those who have previously been marginalized because of where they live or because they have no time left to think about civic engagement when they are struggling to just make ends meet with two or even three jobs.
It should be troubling to all of us that the indigenous people of these islands are over-represented among the incarcerated and the houseless, and under-represented amongst those who vote. We must do our part by engaging in our democracy fully, starting with exercising our right to vote. Native Hawaiians are too often dismissed as nonvoters—because many have historically chosen not to legitimize the illegal annexation of the islands by participating in the democratic process. Yet, when we do not vote we further silence the voices of Native Hawaiians.
Our elected officials demonstrated real leadership and vision in enacting Vote by Mail. Now we are urging our legislators to enact Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) this session to enhance VBM. AVR improves access to voting for the same communities that have historically not voted in large numbers because of their limited time and energy to register to vote in a timely fashion. With AVR, unless they opt out, voter registration and updates happen automatically every time someone applies for or renews their driver’s license or gets a state ID.
AVR can reduce the burden of paperwork associated with voter registration and ensure that ALL voters can participate in our democracy. The battles over Mauna Kea, Sherwood Forest, the Kahuku wind turbines and more are all evidence of a hunger by people to have a say in policies and projects that affect them in one way or another. VBM, complemented by AVR, will help people get involved early in what is going on in their communities. It connects them to those who represent them.
What we do locally has a global resonance too. One of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals – SDG #16 – is to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable institutions at all levels. When more people are engaged in seeing who represents them – and how well they represent them – we will have better policymaking, greater accountability, and a more inclusive society. I look forward to seeing AVR enacted.