This year, Hawai‘i will transition to voting by mail, meaning that all registered voters will have a ballot mailed to them. Sandy Ma is the executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, a nonpartisan nonprofit that works to expand voting rights for all and to strengthen the political participation of everyone in the U.S. regardless of their level of money and power. “When the Hawai‘i voting-by-mail law was passed [by the State Legislature] in 2019, Hawai‘i went all in at once, without a pilot,” says Ma.

Unlike other states which first experimented with more phased efforts to shift voting methods, Ma explains, our legislature made this decision on the 2020 elections, in part, to save money on recruiting poll workers. With hundreds of traditional polling stations statewide, it has become increasingly challenging for the state to hire enough workers for the U.S. primary and general elections.

Hawai‘i had been trending in the past few years with more and more absentee voting; in 2018 over 50% of local voters had used this method (mail-in and early walk-in) to cast their decisions.

With COVID-19, the state’s change in voting modality proved to be prescient and positive. It would have been even harder to hire polling-station staff due to fears of virus transmission — many older folk and retirees who commonly perform this work might not have wanted to provide their labor, said Ma.

A logistical change regarding this aspect of the new voting method is that now, while polling stations will not be open, “voter service centers” will be from 10 days prior to the election to election days themselves. Centers will be open from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. from Monday through Saturday until election days and on election days from
7 a.m. – 7 p.m. People who want to vote in person, perform same-day registration and voting, or need other election assistance still have that option via these centers.

However, logistical challenges to voting by mail and by voter service centers include rural voters not accessing a reliable mail service, situations where people might share a single mailing address or where multiple voters share a P.O. box, homeless individuals who cannot be reached at a consistent address and the generally limited accessibility of voting service centers in neighbor-island and non-urban communities, Ma said. For instance, while O‘ahu and Hawai‘i island each have two voter service centers, the other neighbor islands only have one each (Maui, Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, Kaua‘i), compared to the past’s 230-250 polling booths. [See elections.hawaii.gov/voter-service-centers-and-places-of-deposit/ for voter service centers and other places to deposit your ballot, if you cannot mail it in by election dates.]

If people’s mail is mis-delivered or even if coffee gets spilled on their ballot, they must get a new ballot, too, explains Ma of the many contingencies at work for this process to be effective. The ballots must be received, not postmarked, by the County Clerk’s Office by election days.

Key Dates
July 21: Primary Election Ballots Delivered
July 27: Primary Voter Service Centers Open
Aug. 8: Primary Election

Oct. 5: Voter Registration Deadline
Oct. 16: General Election Ballots Delivered
Oct. 20: Ge neral Voter Service Centers Open
Nov. 3: General Election

For more information about the 2020 Hawai‘i Primary Election, visit the website elections.hawaii.gov.

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