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No Agreement on Election-Day Registration

May 20, 2013, 5:54 PM HST (Updated May 20, 2013, 5:57 PM)
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They tried during six different meetings, but state lawmakers last month could not reach an agreement on a bill that would have allowed Hawaii residents to register to vote on election day.

House Bill 321 was introduced to increase access to voting.

Current state law requires that a voter register 30 days before an election.

In testimony submitted on the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union said in the 2012 election, 62% of Hawaii’s registered voters went to the polls – the lowest voter turnout in the nation.

According to the ACLU, at least 10 states already had same-day voter registration laws, and legislation that would allow it had been proposed in 14 more.

The Associated Press has reported that same-day voter registration is increasingly becoming a partisan issue.

This year, Colorado became No. 11, AP said, joining Democratic-controlled states like California, Connecticut and Maryland in passing such a law which the news service said usually helps younger and poorer voters who typically vote Democratic.

Republicans tried unsuccessfully to overturn same-day registration in Maine in 2011, and a referendum to do that may be on the ballot next year in Montana.

However, with Democrats firmly in control of Hawaii’s Legislature, it appears it was logistics rather than ideology driving the debate here.

The bill was passed out of several House and then Senate committees with only minor changes.

Then it landed in the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor chaired by Sen. Clayton Hee.

According to its report, members of that committee listened to concerns expressed by the county’s clerks about having to designate a clerk at every polling place to handle election-day registrations.

In written testimony submitted to the Legislature, Jeffrey Kuwada, Maui’s county clerk, said that would require 40 additional election workers and a computer system at each of the county’s 34 voting precincts.

Big Island County Clerk Stewart Maeda testified about the potential problems, on voting day, of verifying the prospective voter’s residency and determining the appropriate precinct.

The Judiciary Committee removed the original contents of the bill and inserted new language that would allow residents to register at absentee polling places.

But absentee voting places must close 10 working days before an election.

House and Senate members of the bill’s conference committee – with Hee as its chairman, and Reps. Karl Rhoads and Kaniela Ing as co-chairs – met six times between April 18 and April 26, but could not come up with a compromise.

A Senate spokeswoman said the bill remains on the conference table and could be taken up again in next year’s legislative session.

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