Improve infrastructure for vote by mail to ensure no one is disenfranchised
Whaaaaat? At the end of May, I learned the county was switching to an all vote by mail (VBM) system. Knowing hundreds of residents with no mailing addresses, I immediately became alarmed. Last year when I began registering people who are often excluded because of poverty, location or disability, my goal was simply to ensure their right to vote. I quickly discovered that the system is riddled with pukas which impact all of us. Vote by mail as it is being implemented excludes many of our neighbors. We all need to be concerned when some face insurmountable obstacles to voting.
Health-related new routines necessitated by COVID-19 impact every single person in our county. I now carry a soapy bleach rag, wear a mask in 90-100 degree weather and wipe down every surface I touch repeatedly. Clearly, the risks to public health will affect voting this year.
How could the oversights that make VBM so challenging for some have gone unnoticed?
I jumped on County Council meetings during June to testify to the real barriers some face: lack of transportation or money to take the bus to the one dedicated service center on their island, lack of a mailing address to receive ballots, the need to have certain ID’s to create a General Delivery at the U.S. Post Office, and the fact that a box can only be used for one month, one time in a year. This means those without an address have to choose between voting in the primary or the general election. While speaking with Maui County Clerk Kathy Kaohu, I suggested locating voter service centers and drop-off boxes for ballots in parks or asking the USPS to extend its General Delivery through the end of the year just for ballots. I was hopeful when she suggested waiving the bus fares on Election Day. I am awaiting updates.
No realistic remedies to address the significant barriers to receiving their ballots have been offered. Kaohu coordinated a pleasant conference call to Hawaii Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago, which did not produce any results. The Maui Homeless Alliance did not respond to requests for assistance on voting for the houseless. My devoted colleague Mark Saxton at the Salvation Army said he is not able to make changes to their mail policy, which serves only active clients on short notice. He is also struggling to get basic information to those who do not have smartphones, Wi-FI or data connections. I still encounter people who do not know they cannot walk into their community center to vote this year.
Our nonprofit, Share Your Mana, is dedicated to resolving issues that jeopardize the health and safety of marginalized and vulnerable residents. When filling out registration forms, we left the mailing address blank on the 10 new registrants until the last day hoping some solutions would be enacted. On July 9, we submitted them at the Kahului Service Center tent using the Share Your Mana mailing address. I hope that the county does not conduct one of their “sweeps” of the unhoused as this would make tracking them down extraordinarily difficult.
Thankfully, the 10 new registrants just received their ballots.
If you are willing to be a driver to assist people to get to the single Voter Service Center on primary day or general election day, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Mahalo for your kokua!
The lack of adequate voter service centers and drop boxes for the ballots amounts to voter suppression. At a time when we review the traumatic history of the right to vote for African-Americans, women, and those in poverty, it is shameful that people in “paradise” are still experiencing barriers to voting.
We can all help monitor the process and exert pressure to make change happen. Common Cause Hawaii welcomes volunteers willing to monitor the voter service centers (VSCs) and drop boxes to see if lines are forming. Why are people going to VSCs and drop boxes? How safe are they? If volunteers gather data that shows problems with voting, that information can be used to insist on critical improvements to VBM. Please email Sandy Ma at SMa@commoncause.org.
* Lisa Seikai Darcy is the founder of Share Your Mana.