Hawaii needs an easy vote-by-mail system


POSTED: Thursday, October 16, 2008

All of Hawaii experienced a dismal voter turnout for the primary election. On Maui it was a pathetic 25 percent of eligible voters and statewide it was 37 percent. We need a big idea to change the participation for the next round of elections in 2010 because among other important races we will be electing our next Hawaii governor.

One way to increase voter participation would be to have Hawaii go to a direct mail-in ballot system like Oregon did in 1997. When the state shifted to that system, turnout increased, and Oregon had the third-highest turnout in the country for the 2004 election at 71 percent. Further, voting by mail has reduced election costs from $4.33 per vote down to $1.24 per vote, according to Oregon officials, and widespread voter satisfaction is demonstrated from several surveys.

The study “;Five Years Later: A Reassessment of Oregon's Vote By Mail Electoral Process”; by Priscilla L. Southwell, University of Oregon (2003), found that almost 90 percent of voters over age 65 and those under 25 preferred voting by mail as opposed to voting at a precinct polling place. “;One third of the respondents to the survey stated they vote more often with the vote by mail - particularly women, the disabled, homemakers and those aged 26-38 years old,”; according to the study's authors.

I wanted to get a first-hand report on the Oregon experience so I called the former Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission executive director for 11 years, Bob Watada, now retired and living in Oregon.

I asked Watada what the process was like: “;Very, very easy,”; he said. I asked how voters get registered: At “;most banks, the post office, drivers' license bureaus and libraries,”; he said.

“;The cut off is Oct. 14 before the Nov. 4 election and it is well advertised on the radio and in the newspapers. You receive a confirmation card in the mail and the ballot is mailed three weeks before the election. If you don't get a ballot in the mail or you register too close to the election or you don't mail your ballot in by four days before the election, there is walk-in voting available and you can always just choose to vote at a polling place,”; Watada said.

I was concerned about voter fraud in Oregon. Watada said he hadn't heard or read of any instances. He also said if you spoil a ballot you just call for another. In fact, he felt vote by mail was better because there is a paper trail after your vote.

Watada faxed me a copy of the Oregon voter registration card; it requires a valid drivers' license number, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Voters can also present one of either of the following : a valid photo ID, a paycheck stub, a utility bill, a bank statement or a government document. Very, very, easy.

Considering that Hart InterCivic, the supplier of our voting machines and scanners, wants to charge Hawaii $43 million for its services and equipment, I think Hawaii must seriously consider vote by mail and have it in place for the next election.

Further, I watched the polls this primary and had poll watchers volunteer at 26 other polling precincts in Maui County. The poll workers told me they need more ballot scanning machines (most precincts have only one) and extra poll worker telephones because they expect this presidential election to be a doosey. I hope Hart InterCivic steps up to the plate.


Lance Holter is chairman of the Democratic Party of Maui and lives in Paia, Maui.