Lets urge lawmakers to modernize voting system

VIEWPOINT

As an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, I feel a particular obligation to understand and respond to the plight of the thousands of Native Hawaiian families who are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, or ALICE. Nearly half of all Hawaii households are ALICE and struggling. There are ALICE households on every island, from over 30 percent on Kauai to over 40 percent on Maui.

ALICE families are found in every county, in rural, urban and suburban areas. They are people we know, often working hard to keep their heads above water while juggling two, sometimes three jobs to feed and shelter their family. They have no time for anything that takes away from the all-consuming effort to simply survive. So, for them, taking the time to register to vote is one more chore that too often falls by the wayside on their list of priorities.

Automatic voter registration (AVR) is a step in the direction of better government that can help improve their lives. The good news is that the Legislature is seriously considering joining 17 other states and Washington, D.C, to introduce AVR in Hawaii. We should cheer them on.

AVR offers speed, accuracy and convenience. It also saves money. Lots of money. Here is how.

Anytime someone gets or renews a driver’s license or state ID, or files a change of address, the department of motor vehicles transmits their information electronically to the Office of Elections. No more trying to decipher handwriting. One can say “No, I don’t want you to do that” if one really does not want to be registered to vote and participate in our democracy. (I hope those opt-outs will be few and far between.) So, unless they deliberately choose to opt out, the Office of Elections will receive their updated information and that in turn will ensure that there will be no money wasted sending ballots to the wrong address.

Participation increases, money is saved. The cost of labor processing paper forms in the last election was nearly $600,000. This is money that could be saved and redirected to areas of real need. Further savings could be derived from not having to print voter registration forms, from the elimination of mailings related to duplicate registration entries, and from savings on the postage of forwarding registration forms to the proper recipient.

AVR may not seem like a very pressing issue. But I would argue that streamlining and removing roadblocks to democracy are crucial to uplifting everyone. Easing access to voting when Election Day rolls around is especially important to communities who are too stressed to be able to afford the time and burden of a separate voter registration process, and who therefore are not participants in the process of choosing who can best represent their interests and address their needs. It also makes it harder for them to hold elected officials accountable because they sat out the election and failed to exercise their vote.

Whatever the imperfections of our democracy, it starts with casting one’s vote. AVR helps pave the way for that to happen. Let’s urge lawmakers to take this next step toward modernizing our elections system. The more we can do to bring people into the public policy conversation, the more likely it is that we can work together meaningfully to improve the lives of struggling families across the Hawaiian Islands.

* Hulu Lindsey represents Maui as an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee.