Allow citizens to register, vote on same day
Democracy is based on the idea of electing people to represent us in government. Citizen participation in elections is, thus, essential to the health of our democracy. And an open government allows all qualified citizens to vote in elections.
Most modern democracies have a citizen's right to vote in their constitutions. However, when the United States Constitution was adopted more than 200 years ago, it did not provide this right. Neither does our state give citizens the right to vote.
Still, citizens believe they do have a right to vote. Our belief in democracy is that strong. We think all persons qualified to vote can participate in elections.
Think again. In Hawai'i, we actually prevent many U.S. citizens who are residents of our state and at least 18 years old from voting. How? By requiring voter registration 30 days before the election. The month-long waiting period was adopted before the advent of information technology, but it is no longer necessary.
Today, about a quarter of all eligible voters, or 206,000 Hawai'i residents, are forced to sit out the election process simply because they are not registered. If some of these citizens wanted to vote a few weeks before the election, when the campaigns get interesting, they could not vote.
Without a citizen's right to vote, the state can legally disenfranchise thousands of qualified voters from the ballot box by requiring a long waiting period, without any justification.
For a decade now, citizen groups have sought to eliminate the voter registration waiting period, but the legislation has failed each year. They propose a same-day voter registration law that nine other states have tried with much success. Voter turnout has significantly increased, without incidents of fraud, in those states that allow citizens to register to vote up through Election Day. In contrast, Hawai'i has the lowest election turnout rate among people eligible to vote.
In 2006, after passing both houses of the Legislature, a same-day voter registration bill failed because of minor disagreements between the House and Senate. This year, the Legislature has the opportunity to pass Senate Bill 654 to allow same-day voter registration.
To have a chance of passage, the public needs to weigh in on the issue. This is because many legislators believe that people who are not registered to vote are turned off to politics and elections, and therefore, may be less likely to vote for them.
If all qualified citizens were allowed to vote, I believe we would have a more responsive, civil, and productive legislature.
People who care about our community should stand up for the right to vote for all citizens. Do this by asking legislators to pass Senate Bill 654. Let's get it passed this time.