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Column: Landmark 2020 election will bring all-mail voting

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Let’s take a look at the candidates waiting until February to file for the historic 2020 Hawaii elections. There’s more than the usual interest in local politics.

First this election will be Hawaii’s first all-mail election. We join Oregon, Washington and Colorado in moving to an all-mail election. Some studies have shown that election costs can be reduced by up to 40% by going this route. Supporters also predict that voter turnout will increase, especially among those who don’t always vote.

That’s because every registered voter in Hawaii will be mailed a ballot next year, the hope being that the added convenience will increase turnout. In Hawaii, voter turnout is usually among the lowest in the country.

So if every voter in Hawaii gets a written invitation to vote, will there be more of them and expand the possibilities for politicians to woo new supporters?

Another new factor is that the 13 state senators to be elected in 2020 will have a two-year term, instead of the usual four years, because 2021 is a reapportionment year and the state Constitution requires the two-year limit to preserve the new Senate boundaries.

The final piece of scene-setting: The political parties were firmed up earlier this month when the Elections Office approved four political parties — Democrat, Republican, Libertarian and Green.

Now it is up to the candidates.

Already, two Honolulu elections are looking interesting. The race for mayor is drawing a lot of scrutiny. Former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa and Honolulu businessman Keith Ame­miya are announced candidates along with Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine, with Councilman Ron Menor and former Congressman Charles Djou in the “mulling it over” stage.

So far no one has exactly hit the ground running, although Amemiya mounted a brief flurry of campaign ads; he will have to do much more if he wants voters to recognize his name. The other candidates also need to start defining the issues, unless they want their opponents to be in charge of painting their portraits.

The biggest question mark of the 2020 election is what is to become of Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She is dashing through the early presidential primary states, where according to reports, the attendance has been polite and receptive, but has never come close to approaching the foot-stomping enthusiasm of California’s Sen. Kamala Harris and has never registered above 6% in any presidential poll.

If Gabbard continues along this track and then sometime early next year drops out, saying she wants to just be Hawaii’s congresswoman, she will spend 2020 explaining to voters what her presidential campaign proved and exactly how much of her character is just hubris.

Of course, if she doesn’t run for re-election, expect a tidal wave of candidates to join state Sen. Kai Kahele in the suddenly-open Democratic primary.

Lastly, there is also interest about 2022. Outgoing Mayor Kirk Caldwell is likely to attempt to break the Honolulu Hale curse on mayors wanting to be governor as the 67-year-old Manoa Democrat says he will run in 2022.

So does Lt. Gov. Josh Green. With Honolulu’s staggering rail problems expected to get worse in the next year, Caldwell’s political future is not secure. Hawaii is comfortable picking lieutenant governors, not mayors, as governor.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays. Reach him at

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