Voting by mail could
increase turnout in
state’s elections


Legislators are considering proposals to conduct balloting via the mail box.

GETTING people to the polls has been a chronic problem in Hawaii, so much so that the state holds the dubious distinction of having the lowest voter participation in the nation.

This ignominious record could be reversed if the state conducts its elections as Oregon does -- through the U.S. Postal Service.

Several proposals are working their way through the Legislature this year and there appear to be few insurmountable reasons why Hawaii should not adopt Oregon's court-tested model.

That state's 86.5 percent turnout of registered voters clearly shows the advantages of substituting mail box for ballot box. Before mail-in balloting, Oregon had a 60 percent turnout rate.

In comparison, only 48.9 percent of Hawaii's eligible voters showed up at the polls, although 66.7 percent of those who registered cast ballots, according to the Center for the Study of the American Electorate.

Mail-in voting would make the process far more convenient than going to a polling site on election day, a key motivation for the recent increase in mail-in absentee ballots. More than 83,000 people voted by mail last November, the state elections office reports.

In addition, voting becomes more deliberative because people are more likely to research candidates and issues when they have the time and resources available.

The absentee process currently in place could serve as a foundation for a mail-in system since verification and privacy issues already have been tested.

Mail-in ballots could also set aside questions with e-voting, which the state began last year primarily for disabled voters. Some were concerned that e-voting provided no paper trail should a recount be needed. Mail-in ballots would negate that problem although the state would still need to provide a system for the disabled.

A legal challenge of Oregon's system, approved eight years ago, cited a 1872 federal law requiring that elections be held throughout the country on the same day, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the law required only that the election be "consummated" by a certain day.

To prevent fraud and tampering, Oregon does not begin counting ballots until election day. Ballots are mailed a few weeks in advance, which seems like ample time for voters to send them back. However, before Hawaii adopts a similar system, postal officials should be consulted to find out if an increase in mail would cause any hitches.

An Oregon election official told the Star-Bulletin's Richard Borreca that mail-in elections have cut the costs of conducting elections, but Dwayne Yoshina, Hawaii's election officer, says that may not be the result here since the state would have to pay for postage, as it does now for absentee mail-ins.

In any case, Yoshina says, the goal should be focused on boosting voter participation. If a mail-in system accomplishes that, it would be well worth the price of a stamp.

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