Hawaii Lawmakers Pass All-mail Elections, Automatic Recounts

May 1, 2019

Credit Ryan Ozawa / Flickr

HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers have passed bills instituting all-mail voting and automatic recounts for races with narrow victory margins, measures lawmakers hope will boost voter turnout and confidence in elections.

The House and Senate approved the measures Tuesday. The bills now go to the governor, who hasn't indicated whether he'll sign them.

One measure would have voters statewide cast ballots by mail starting with the 2020 primary. People would also have the option to cast ballots at a voter service center or drop off ballots at other central locations if they prefer.

Hawaii would join Oregon, Washington and Colorado with all-mail elections if the bill becomes law. California and Utah give counties the option to hold all-mail elections.

Sen. Karl Rhoads, a Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he believes the convenience of voting by mail will get more people to cast ballots.

"You don't have to skip work to do it, you don't have to take time off, you don't have to go out of your way. I think the net result will be a small bump in voter turnout," Rhoads said.

Hawaii's voter turnout is among the lowest in the nation. During last November's midterm general elections, 52.7 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the state.

Mail-in voting would have the added benefit of saving the state about $750,000 each election cycle because the state won't have to hire as many poll workers, Rhoads said.

Another bill would require a recount when a victory margin is less than one hundred ballots or 0.25% of votes cast, whichever is greater. Twenty states and the District of Columbia already provide for automatic recounts.

"It just gives people more confidence that the vote was right," Rhoads said.

Recounts came to the forefront after the November election when the margin of victory in a Honolulu City Council race was just 22 votes, or 0.006% out of more than 36,000 ballots cast. A state Senate race was decided by 116 votes, or less than 0.01% of more than 12,000 cast.

Under existing law, a losing candidate or voter can request a recount, but recounts are seldom approved.

The state Supreme Court invalidated the city council race's outcome after determining elections officials collected mail-in ballots after 6 p.m. on Election Day when they weren't supposed to do so. This triggered a do-over election for that seat.