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ID policy should support voting

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While the issue of requiring strict photographic identifica- tion by voters is being fought in highly contested states in this year’s presidential race, Hawaii, to its credit, has maintained more sensible rules regarding voter registration. In accordance with the 2002 Help America Vote Act, first-time voters who did not provide identification when registering by mail must provide identification when they cast their ballot. But although a photo ID is encouraged, it’s not necessary — a current utility bill, bank statement or other such document will do.

Few voters in Hawaii should have difficulty proving their identity and eligibility to cast ballots, which is a good thing. Given the weakness of the state’s voter turnout, and the importance of the November election, anything that needlessly discourages a voter from casting a ballot is bad public policy.

In August’s primary election, only about 1,100 first-time voters were flagged on Oahu, so voter ID fraud should not be an issue in Hawaii.

"The bottom line is that this isn’t a big problem, because most people have something in their wallet or their purse to positively identify themselves," Rex Quidilla, a spokesman for the state Office of Elections, told the Star-Advertiser’s Derrick DePledge.

It’s not an issue elsewhere either, but that hasn’t stopped Republicans in several states from advocating strict voter ID laws, efforts that critics claim would suppress votes by minority and low-income voters. One such law was rejected last week by a judge in a Pennsylvania — where a state legislator was caught on video admitting that the photo requirement would give the state to Mitt Romney — but the effort continues in swing states such as Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio.

No such attempt is being made in Hawaii, for the obvious reason that voters here can be assumed to hand a big victory to hometown favorite President Barack Obama.

Nonetheless, the implementation of the Help America Vote Act will be a new experience for poll workers. Mistakes can be made. The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii plans to monitor carefully this aspect of the election to ensure that no one is wrongly denied his or her right to vote. State elections officials should do the same.

The movement toward mailed registration and ballots complicates matters. National statistics show that votes cast by mail are more likely to be compromised and be contested than those cast in a voting booth. Nationally, 35.5 million voters requested absentee ballots in the 2008 election, but only 27.9 million absentee votes were counted, according to a study by Charles Stewart III, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist. Nearly 4 million requested by voters never got to them and nearly 3 million that were received did not make it back to election officials.

Absentee voting has grown more popular in Hawaii. In this year’s primary, 48.7 percent of the state’s votes were cast before Election Day, compared with 44.4 percent in 2010 and 38.6 percent in 2008. However, there’s no indication that voter ID fraud has compromised the absentee voting process in Hawaii. More troubling are reports from some voters that candidates visited their homes and mailed their ballots for them, raising the possibility of subtle pressure, intimidation or fraud.

The essence of democracy is the ballot, cast by every eligible voter who can. It’s a fundamental right that should be guarded jealously — by the public and by those who manage our elections.

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