Hawaii’s voter turnout record was bad enough without this latest handicap: a change in voting sites that is sure to produce confusion and discouragement on election day.
The Office of Elections has pared its roster of polling places by 97 for the current election season, due to budget cuts that have hobbled most state agencies.
CONSIDER WALK-IN VOTING
Voters can find their polling sites on the Web using the Office of Elections’ polling place locator at elections3.hawaii.gov/ppl.
Kevin Cronin, the embattled former state elections chief, saw this coming and proposed the closure of voting sites. Lawmakers approved a $250,000 appropriation to help underwrite the primary election, but by then the elections office — now under new management — had to go ahead with planning for a winnowed polling operation.
Besides, officials say, that amount, supplemented by a federal grant, was only enough to staff and supply the smaller operation.
There have been efforts to redirect the voters displaced by the closures, both by this newspaper and the elections office (see box).
But it seems clear that a wise course of action, at least for the upcoming primary election, is for voters to opt for early voting and avoid the confusion.
Those who have already requested and received a mail-in absentee ballot can use it to vote at their leisure.
But even those who haven’t done so, missing Saturday’s deadline to request one, can take advantage of the walk-in voting option. Lines are short or nonexistent, and voters need only to bring a photo ID and can fill out the absentee form on the spot.
The Hawaii Poll, conducted for the Star-Advertiser in recent weeks, yielded one encouraging prediction: About 46 percent of residents responding to the poll said they plan to vote through mail-in or walk-in.
National trends show an increasing preference for early voting, so with any luck that projection will be borne out.
The elections office is planning a series of radio and TV ads to educate voters about the change. But officials don’t plan to put signs at closed polls to redirect voters to the right sites, citing the logistical problems in getting permission for signs and posting them.
That’s a mistake.
There are sure to be many voters who are unaccustomed to surfing websites or miss the scattered advertisements and who then turn up in the wrong place. Many will likely then turn away, frustrated.
Voting is a civic right, even a pleasure for many people who enjoy the excitement and like to reserve it for the election day itself.
But for this year, and likely for the future, early voting will offer the best chance of getting the maximum degree of voter participation — which is, after all, the primary objective.