Friday, March 6, 2009

Same-day voter registration passes Hawaii Senate

HONOLULU – Hawaii may become the 10th state in the nation to allow same-day voter registration, thanks to a bill that passed the state Senate today.

SB 654, sponsored by Sen. Les Ihara, D-Kapahulu, Kaimuki, Palolo, is aimed at improving Hawaii’s historically low voter turnout. It’s championed by the League of Women Voters of Hawaii, Common Cause Hawaii and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.

Even the 2008 presidential election featuring Hawaii-born Barrack Obama failed to excite Hawaii voters, with just under 70 percent going to the polls. That’s still higher than the estimated turnout nationwide, but still not enough to satisfy civic groups.

“The last month of campaigning is the period when individuals become most motivated and engaged in elections because of the heightened awareness of issues and mobilization of efforts in competitive races,” said Laurie Temple, lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union

“Voters that would be otherwise have been denied the opportunity to vote, including new voters or people who have recently moved, will be enfranchised by election-day registration and thus will increase voter turnout.”

In 2004, an average of 74 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote in states with election-day voter registration compared to 60 percent in states without election-day voter registration. In Minnesota, 77 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2004 presidential election. Wisconsin and Maine, which also have election-day voter registration programs, finished second and third, respectively, in voter turnout, according to Senate staff.

But Kevin Cronin, chief election officer for the state, worries about the likelihood of increased administrative costs and the possibility of fraud. Sen. Sam Slom, R-Kahala, Hawaii Kai, cited similar concerns when voting no.

“Increasing voter registration among eligible individuals might be more easily accomplished without risk of same-day voter registration by increasing voter education funding to further raise public awareness and encourage participation in voting and elections,” Cronin said.