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Hawaii lawmakers pass automatic recount, voter registration

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Hawaii House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Chris Lee speaks at the Hawaii State Capitol today while flanked by fellow House members. Hawaii lawmakers have passed several bills to reform elections, including requiring automatic recounts when victory margins are exceptionally narrow, voting by mail across the state and automatic voter registration.

Hawaii lawmakers have passed several bills to make it easier to vote and boost confidence in elections.

In the state House, the measures include requiring automatic recounts when victory margins are exceptionally narrow, voting by mail across the state and automatic voter registration.

Another bill would use ranked-choice voting for special elections and partisan primary contests. The bills have crossed over to the state Senate for consideration.

The state Senate has also passed a voting by mail bill and an automatic recount measure. They have crossed over to the House for consideration.

Lawmakers want to make it easier for everyone to vote, said Rep. Chris Lee, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The Kailua Democrat said this is especially true in Hawaii where voters have a low turnout rate. In November’s general election, 52.7 percent of Hawaii registered voters cast ballots.

Both the House and Senate automatic recount measures would require a mandatory recount of votes for a candidate or ballot measure when the margin of victory is equal to or less than 100 votes or 0.5 percent of the votes cast, whichever is greater.

The issue came to the fore in November after Trevor Ozawa had a 22-vote edge over Tommy Waters to represent Hawaii Kai on the Honolulu City Council. Waters challenged the outcome and the Hawaii Supreme Court has ordered a new election for the seat.

Rep. Chris Todd, a Hilo Democrat who co-sponsored the House’s automatic recount bill, said close elections must be decided in an objective and fair manner.

“We need something on the books to ensure the integrity of the elections, which is really the foundation of our democracy,” he said. “There’s enough distrust in government as is, without people having to worry about whether the candidate with the most votes actually won a race.”

Twenty states and the District of Columbia allow for automatic recounts when the margin between winner and loser is narrow enough, the National Conference of State Legislatures says.

Maine became the first state in the nation to adopt ranked choice voting for U.S. House and Senate races in November.

Under this system, voters rank candidates from best to worst. The candidate garnering a majority of first-place votes is the winner.

But if there’s no majority winner, the last-place candidate is eliminated and the losing candidate’s second-place votes are reallocated for another voting round. The computerized tallies are repeated in a game of political survivor until someone captures a majority.

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