Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Vote early and vote at home — that’s the message from state and county elections officials, as Hawai‘i holds its first all-mail, all-absentee-ballot election starting with the August 8 primary election.
Voting at home is the safest way to vote during the coronavirus pandemic, says Glen Takahashi, the Honolulu City Clerk who oversees elections on O‘ahu.
“We (poll workers) don’t want to catch COVID from you, and you don’t want to catch COVID from us or the other people in line (to vote),” Takahashi continues.
More than half the ballots cast in the last election were absentee or by mail. So most people are familiar with voting at home and have confidence in the process, Takahashi explains.
According to the Office of Elections website, “Voters may return their ballot by mail or in-person at a designated place of deposit.”
Elections officials are trying to educate voters that their usual polling place will not be open on Election Day (Aug. 8), so voters must vote at home and return ballots to their County Clerk or vote at a voter service center. Voters can use a polling machine at the voter service centers, which will open 10 days before the election (July 27). Voter service centers and places of deposit are listed at elections.hawaii.gov/voter-service-centers-and-places-of-deposit.
The deadline to register to vote and receive a mail-in ballot is July 9. Online voter registration can be done online at olvr.hawaii.gov, or the voter registration application form can be printed, filled out and signed and mailed in (the form is at elections.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/VR-Form-English-20191210-website.pdf). If you miss the registration deadline or don’t receive a mail-in ballot, Hawai‘i offers same-day registration and walk-in voting at voter service centers. Mail ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Drop boxes to collect ballots will be staffed at various locations five days before the election and until 7 p.m. on Election Day. A PDF map of ballot dropbox locations can be found here.
The state and county mailed postcards to all registered voters with information about the all-mail election. The most recent mailing was a signature card to be returned to your County Clerk’s office. Returning this card is optional but encouraged. Your signature on the mail ballot will be compared to the signature card or other signature on file, such as your driver’s license, state ID or past voter signatures.
Signatures can change over time, so having people sign the returned card provides the Office of Elections with the most up-to-date signature, explains Takahashi. He adds that computer software will confirm most signatures on the ballots. If there’s a question, elections officials will examine the signatures and contact the voter if there is a need to further confirm the signature’s authenticity. Elections observers from each political party can watch the signature confirmation process to provide greater security.
It’s possible that close races may not be decided until after Election Day until officials can confirm all ballot signatures. Voters have seven days after Election Day to resolve any concerns. The sooner ballots are received, the more time elections officials and voters have to make sure the signatures are correct, Takahashi says.
If you haven’t received postcards from the Office of Elections, it may mean you are not registered or the elections office does not have your correct address. Go to olvr.hawaii.gov to check on your voter registration.
Voting is your right, and voting at home appears be the safest way to be counted during this pandemic.
Craig Gima is communications director at AARP Hawai‘i. He is an award-winning multimedia communicator with more than 30 years of experience. A Honolulu native, Gima spent nearly 19 years at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a variety of reporting, editing and online roles before joining AARP in 2016. Gima graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California.