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Modernizing our elections will ensure that “we, the people” will be heard

Viewpoint

We are all still reeling from 2020. We long for the days before this pandemic when we took the kisses and hugs with which we greeted each other for granted. But even if social distancing and masking are the public health orders of the day, I see 2021 as the year in which we must restore the fraying ties that bind us. We must strengthen our commitment to help each other rebuild our fractured lives.

As the new chair of the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to lead that work of repairing and rebuilding within the context of the mission of OHA. I am committed to doing all I can to move forward OHA’s Strategic Plan, which prioritizes the urgent needs of our beneficiaries for better education, health care, quality housing and economic stability. On top of disproportionate representation among the houseless, Native Hawaiians are among those taking the brunt of the impact of COVID-19. Yet while the problems are many and obvious to all of us, the move towards solutions is far slower than it should be.

Those affected by policy decisions need to be sure that their interests are represented when policy is crafted. That starts with voting. Yet with so many struggling to make ends meet, with the challenge of living far from urban centers, and not always having access to the internet, registering to vote can fall way down in the list of priorities for eligible voters.

There is a common-sense, cost- and time-saving solution: enact automatic voter registration. This simply means that when someone goes to the DMV to get or renew their driver’s license or state ID, their voter information will be sent electronically to the County Elections Division, unless they opt out. This way their voter registration is always kept up to date and they are ready to vote whenever an election rolls around. Yes, there is same-day voter registration in Hawaii. But the long lines we saw on Election Day at the handful of voter service centers across the islands tell us that there is definitely room to further modernize and streamline our election process.

At a time of unseemly attacks on our democracy, it behooves us to take whatever steps we can to protect the ability of people to make their voices and their wishes heard. And if one of those steps — automatic voter registration — also promises to save time and money, is there any logical reason not to do it? I don’t think so.

I know that my ability to steer the Board of Trustees at OHA depends on the full engagement of our beneficiaries and those who have been elected to serve them. Similarly, the ability of our elected officials to steer the ship of state through the rocky waters that we know lie ahead depends on the full engagement of voters. The election officials and volunteers deserve our thanks for all they did to ensure that vote by mail went off smoothly in the first year of implementation. Thousands more voted. But thousands still did not. Among them are many of our beneficiaries who may not even be registered to vote because they are too busy addressing the struggle to access housing, education, health care — and to pay for groceries. They have no time or energy to worry about whether they are registered to vote. But these are the people whose interests must be better represented. Making it easier for them to be ready to vote through AVR will give them a fighting chance to have a say in who speaks for their community.

As I look forward to closing the distance between OHA trustees and the beneficiaries we are duty-bound to serve by being more attentive to all voices, I hope the Legislature will be equally eager to close the distance between the people and its government. Make automatic voter registration law this year. It is the logical next step after the success of vote by mail.

* Hulu Lindsey represents Maui on the OHA Board of Trustees. The award-winning entertainer and businesswoman was first elected in 2012. Previously, she worked at the Maui Land & Pineapple Company and was also a land administrator in Maui County.

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