House panel rejects pure mail elections
A statewide vote-by-mail proposal has been scrapped by the House Judiciary Committee, which wants voters to be able to permanently request absentee voter status.
The House committee took Senate Bill 156, which allows state elections to be conducted with only mail-in ballots, yesterday and substituted another bill, HB 764, calling for permanent absentee voter status.
Rep. Tommy Waters, Judiciary Committee chairman, said he thought a pure mail-only system, such as the program used in Oregon, was "too big a leap."
Instead, Waters (D, Lanikai-Waimanalo) said the permanent absentee system would be a compromise.
The Legislature is looking at ways to increase voter turnout because Hawaii has ranked at or near the bottom in national records of voter participation in the last three elections.
The original vote-by-mail bill noted that voter participation increases with vote by mail because it is easier for people to vote, it is less expensive because there is no need to staff election day polling places and voters have a longer time to study their choices before mailing in their ballots.
In the new version, voters would be allowed to request permanent absentee voter status. Absentee status would mean that the voter would be mailed an absentee ballot in every election to fill out and mail back by election day.
Voters would be forbidden from voting with both absentee and regular ballots. Voting officials would remove the person's name from the permanent absentee status if the voter dies, loses voting rights, registers to vote in another jurisdiction or is disqualified from voting.
According to the proposal approved by the House Judiciary Committee, if a voter failed to vote in both the primary and general election in any year, their permanent absentee status would be changed back to that of a regular voter.
A House-Senate conference committee is expected to discuss the proposals next month.