Some Solutions For State’s Flawed Voting Process
Rep’n Mililani …Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang
People need to be able to trust their government and trust in the fairness of the political process. When they feel like they can’t, or when people believe their vote doesn’t really matter, they stop voting. And in Hawaii, voter turnout is dismal.
Voter confidence seems to be at an all-time low after the high-profile primaries helped to bring attention, once again, to Hawaii’s election problems. In Puna, for example, many who wanted to vote weren’t able to because they were denied the additional time they needed after being hit by Tropical Storm Iselle.
While such disenfranchisement is appalling, problems like this aren’t new. There weren’t enough ballots distributed in 2012 to many Oahu polling places. Further damaging election integrity is the lack of automatic recounts, which help instill confidence in outcomes.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz beat U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in August’s primary by a 0.7 margin, but it wasn’t the first time for such a close race. In fact, Hanabusa lost to U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono by a similar margin in 2006. Since 2004, 30 races were won by just 2 percent or less; eight were won by 0.5 percent or less. In a 2010 Mililani state House race, just 16 of 11,140 votes separated the candidates. As the law currently stands, contesting results in any of these races requires proof that fraud or other irregularities changed the outcome.
Hawaii has post-election audit procedures to check some of the votes. A study by Verified Voting Foundation, however, determined that it “needs improvement” because it “lacks sufficient transparency and clear criteria about which contests to audit.” An audit found that 800 votes on Maui this year were initially uncounted. Though politicians, the media and the public were outraged, it went unmentioned that ballot counts regularly change the day after the election because additional uncounted absentee ballots are found overnight. Given these irregularities, our state could certainly benefit from clarified audit laws.
These are reforms the state can implement, and I think the Legislature and public recognize the need for change. Part of the change is improving how we run elections, and I believe that’s the first step.
Measures such as same-day registration and all-mail elections are well-intentioned, but they could only worsen the problem if we don’t handle our existing systemic problems first. In fact, many of my constituents pointed this out to me when I co-sponsored a same-day registration bill. Trusting the collective wisdom of my constituents, I voted against that bill, and my office is now working on possible solutions, such as trigger mechanisms for automatic recounts and improved audit procedures. I hope to champion and vote for reform proposals in the upcoming session.
Of course, not all of the change can come from government, because interest can’t be legislated.
I know people feel more frustrated than ever now, but casting a ballot is still the most direct way you bring change and influence your government.
Contact Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang, R-District 36 (Mililani, Mililani Mauka and Waipio Acres) at 586-9460 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.