Lawmakers pass automatic voter registration bill

  • Holly Plackett from the League of Women Voters registers voters at the Kona Safeway ahead of the 2020 general election. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Election worker Hiram Wilbur registers a voter for August’s primary election at West Hawaii Civic Center. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

State lawmakers Tuesday passed a measure that would make Hawaii the latest state to implement automatic voter registration.

Senate Bill 159 passed a floor vote in the Senate with 23 “ayes” and one “aye” vote with reservations while the 51-member House voted to pass the measure with one representative voting “no.” The bill now advances to Gov. David Ige for his signature. If signed into law, it goes into effect July 1.

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The measure makes an application for voter registration part of all state identification card and driver’s license applications. It also ensures that changes to names and addresses of people already registered to vote are automatically updated unless the person declines.

Voter registration information would be shared only among the counties, Department of Transportation, election personnel, and the online voter registration system.

“This is a big improvement for Hawaii’s voters. Automatic Voter Registration will provide more convenience, help ensure the accuracy of voter rolls and help ensure compliance with Federal voting rights laws. The League of Women Voters hails this change!” Helen Hemmes, president of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii County, said in a prepared statement.

Supporters of the measure said automatic voter registration would make registering to vote more convenient and cost-effective, and would keep the voter registration rolls more current. Opposition to the bill noted a lack of citizenship requirement and concerns over privacy.

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Similar bills have been introduced in Hawaii’s Legislature in recent years. Last year’s Senate Bill 2005 was one of the many pieces of legislation abandoned as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. In 2019, Senate Bill 412 reached conference committee, but never made it to Ige’s desk.

More than 88,600 ballots were cast in the Nov. 3 Hawaii County general election. That’s a turnout of nearly 70% of Hawaii County’s 127,348 registered voters. Sixty-six percent of ballots cast in the general election were done via mail.

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