Mail-in election might stir isle voters from their apathy


POSTED: Sunday, March 01, 2009

These days you take your good news where you can find it.

Out of the sad death of City Councilwoman Barbara Marshall, one of Hawaii's redoubtable journalists before joining the Council, comes a new election.

And the election will be held next month to select a successor for her Windward district seat, with the good news coming in the form of how the election will be held.

It is a vote-by-mail contest. The Legislature authorized the use of mail-in elections in cases of special elections after the scramble to hold an election to vote in a successor to the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink.

In next month's contest, every registered voter in the district will be mailed a ballot. You just pick your candidate and mail it back. Ballots must come back to the city clerk's office by April 23.

Oregon and Washington have a nearly universal vote-by-mail system, but Hawaii has been mulling it over for several years.

Voters appear to like the system and it makes a lot of sense for citizens. Voters can talk to family and friends about the candidates and issues. Leaving the ballots on the kitchen table helps to start a discussion about the candidate's merits.

The best part about voting by mail is that more people do it. Voting numbers are important to Hawaii because for a decade, Hawaii has been the voting shame of the nation as we always log in at or near the bottom for voter turnout.

Even last year, when the Democratic candidate for president was from Hawaii, Hawaii voters were cellar dwellers.

A study of California voters this year shows that voting by mail helped revive a flagging interest in presidential elections.

It is also less expensive, there are no poll worker classes to conduct, no poll workers period, no leasing hundreds of voting machines, all the ballots are counted by machines in a central location and there is no confusion about which polling place to go to.

The only Election Day hassle Hawaii voters don't have to worry about is long lines, because we just don't show up anyway.

So if the voters in Kaneohe and Kailua can vote by mail, is there a chance that this will catch on for all elections?

Not yet. There are no bills under serious discussion at the Legislature this year, but Senate President Colleen Hanabusa is a fan and has pushed it for years.

Who doesn't like it? Incumbents have no reason to change the system that brought them into office.

For Hawaii voters, a chance to easily ditch their apathy might actually be reason enough.


Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)