The coronavirus has affected nearly every facet of our daily lives — even our elections.
Democratic Party officials recently announced the cancellation of walk-in voting for Hawaii’s presidential primary election (“Hawaii Democrats cancel walk-in presidential voting that was planned for April 4,” Star-Advertiser, March 20).
Thankfully, the party made changes even prior to the emergence of COVID-19 that will allow the election to proceed despite the cancellation of walk-in voting.
Voters, however, will need to prepare in two ways to ensure they have a voice in selecting a president:
>> Vote by mail. For the first time, mail-in ballots are being used for the presidential primary election. To participate, voters need to enroll in the Democratic Party by this Saturday, in order to receive a mailed ballot.
>> Ranked-choice voting. Learn about this new voting method being used for the first time in Hawaii.
While voting by mail in the presidential primary may be new, most voters are already familiar with this process. Many have used absentee voting in the past, and all Hawaii elections this year will be conducted by mail. With the coronavirus, however, this shift is more important than ever because mail is now the only way to vote.
Ranked choice, on the other hand, is completely new — and this is the first time it will be featured in a Hawaii election. Understandably, many may have questions. Unfortunately, without walk-in voting there will be no one to ask.
Here’s how it works. Ranked voting is an innovation meant to provide voters with more flexibility in the election process. It’s already used in places like Oakland, Minneapolis and New York City, which just adopted this process. The concept is simple. With traditional voting, you can choose only one person. With this new method, voters select and rank their top three candidates. It helps to address the difficult or confusing task of selecting a single person from a large field of candidates.
Since Hawaii ballots were printed in February prior to candidates dropping out of the race, there are 10 prospective presidential nominees listed. It can be daunting for voters to select just one person from this long list. Instead, voters can now simply rank three preferences. In other words, if you don’t know or have a strong opinion of all the individual candidates, you will have options and flexibility.
In addition, there’s another crucial benefit to using ranked choice: It protects voters from wasting their ballots.
As mentioned, most of the presidential candidates have dropped out of the running since the start of the campaign season. The last to do it was Hawaii’s own U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. This has narrowed the presidential field to two, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Unfortunately, many states held their elections or printed their ballots before this exodus. That means votes for candidates who dropped out would be considered wasted in states utilizing traditional voting. FairVote, a national nonpartisan election reform organization, estimates roughly 2-1/2 million votes will be wasted across this country because voters didn’t have ranked choice.
Hawaii and other places with ranked choice needn’t worry about this problem. The more than 20,000 voters in the islands who already cast their ballot can be assured their votes will be counted no matter what. That’s because there are three candidate rankings, ensuring that even if a voter’s first choice is no longer running, their second and/or third choices will still be tabulated.
The 2020 primary presidential election incorporates principles of innovation and change to help overcome COVID-19 — concepts we can all use these days.
Tyler Dos Santos-Tam is an active member of the Democratic Party and former executive director of the Hawaii Construction Alliance.