After Worst Voter Turnout In Nation, Hawaii Enacts Strong Progressive Voting Rights Law

CREDIT: AP Photo/Marco Garcia

Voters cast their ballots at Waikiki Elementary on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 in Honolulu

There aren’t many categories where Hawaii would find itself looking up to states like Oklahoma and Kentucky.

Yet in voter turnout during the last presidential election, the Aloha State ranked not only behind Oklahoma and Kentucky, but every other state as well. Even with its native son Barack Obama atop the ballot, just a paltry 44 percent of eligible Hawaii voters showed up to vote.

Many states see a dip in turnout when there are few competitive races on the ballot, but that doesn’t necessarily explain Hawaii’s abysmal turnout. The state had an open Senate race in 2012 for the first time in decades, pitting a former governor against a sitting congresswoman.

Instead, a principal factor holding down the state’s turnout rate was the fact that Hawaii voters wishing to cast a ballot in-person had to be registered no later than 30 days before the election. In other words, citizens who were caught up following the San Francisco Giants’ 2012 World Series run and didn’t begin paying attention to the election until late October found themselves unable to cast a ballot.

On Tuesday, though, Hawaii lawmakers passed legislation to fix that, allowing citizens instead to register to vote when they show up to cast a ballot. The bill, HB 2590, will permit citizens to register at early voting sites beginning in 2016 (same-day registration) and at polling places on Election Day in 2018 (Election Day registration). It will now go to Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D), who is expected to sign the legislation.

Rep. Kaniela Ing (D), who introduced the legislation, explained why EDR is necessary in a statement to the AP: “Today’s policy decisions will impact young people for decades to come, and it doesn’t make sense to exclude them because of arbitrary registration deadlines based on technological limitations that no longer exist.”

It is almost certain that EDR will be a salve for Hawaii’s low-turnout ailment. Academic studies have found that EDR increases turnout between 7 and 14 percentage points.

Election Day registration, which in many ways is a progressive antidote to restrictive voter ID laws, has been adopted in an increasing number of states recently, including California and Connecticut.