Automatic voter registration — save money, improve access

Every politician wants to “do something” and “accomplish stuff.” It is a natural inclination to want to make a mark, and to have accomplishments of significance to point to when running for reelection.

The challenge is that most “stuff” is either boring or inconsequential to the average person. The really important stuff either costs a zillion dollars to make happen, and or is controversial in nature— otherwise someone else would have already done it.

And since regular readers of this column already know that most politicians are “risk averse,” and since zillions of dollars are always hard to come by, it means that to do truly meaningful stuff is not always easy.

Ideally, the proposed public policy change does not cost the state money but rather can actually be proven to save the tax payer money. Also ideally the proposal has the support of the agency tasked with implementing the change, as well as the advocacy groups and institutional organizations that specialize in the particular subject matter being addressed.

Finally the proposal must have been proven elsewhere to actually accomplish something that is significant and tangible. And of course it must enjoy popular support, or at the minimum it must not be actively opposed by any significant segment of the public.

Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) fits the bill (pun intended).

Reforming and improving the way we conduct campaigns and elections, is the key to reinvigorating our democracy. These reforms include campaign finance reform, public financing of elections, all mail-in ballots, ranked choice voting, automatic voter registration and others.

During the upcoming 2019 legislative session the citizens of Hawaii will have the opportunity to support Automatic Voter Registration (AVR). I encourage all to put this on your “legislative radar,” share this information with your friends and neighbors, and testify in support as hearings are held in the future.

What is Automatic Voter Registration (AVR)?

At the present time, when a resident obtains or renews their driver’s license the option of also registering to vote is available. This is called an “opt in” option. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of this option and in their rush to just get their license and get out — many, if not most, do not opt in and thus do not register to vote.

AVR simply reverses the process and makes it an “opt out” choice. Every resident who obtains a driver’s license is automatically registered to vote, unless they choose not to. Provisions to ensure that only those legally entitled to vote are put in place, that protect the integrity of the process.

Voter information is then electronically transferred between licensing and election officials, resulting in a more efficient, secure, convenient process that saves money.

Hawaii is presently using out-of-date systems and decades-old technology.

It’s time to modernize. It’s worked elsewhere. Why not here?

Hawaii, implemented Online Voter Registration in 2015 and phased in same day registration starting in 2016. Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) is the logical next step.

Hawaii has had the lowest voter turnout in the country for the last 20 years. The implementation of AVR in other communities has demonstrated clearly that it will help turn that trend around by increasing convenience and improving access to voting.

As of December 2018, AVR has been approved in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

The data shows that AVR improves the likelihood that people will vote by minimizing bureaucracy and requiring less time and effort from eligible voters.

Automatic Voter Registration helps to make sure that all eligible voters in Hawaii are registered to vote at their current address. This increases the security of our elections because we know that ballots are sent to the correct location and the correct voter.

But what if I don’t want to vote, you might be thinking? It’s a real shame to not exercise such a valuable right, BUT your freedom to NOT VOTE is preserved as people can choose to opt-out.

And then there is the issue of cost. Good news! Automatic Voter Registration will save us money. Traditional paper registration typically costs 30 times more than AVR. Yes, initially there are some costs to implementing AVR. But they are far outweighed by the long-term savings we will reap from doing so.

Processing paper forms in Hawaii during the 2016 election cycle cost nearly $575,000 for labor. This does not include the printing of voter registration forms, mailings related to duplicate registration entries, and the postage of forwarding registration forms to the proper recipient. Up-to-date voter rolls will help reduce the cost of sending ballots to wrong addresses.

This is good and important stuff. I am hopeful that our legislators in the House and Senate will seize on this opportunity for a two-fer: save money while improving access to voting for all.

What’s not to like?


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.

  1. Ken Conklin January 23, 2019 7:42 am Reply

    Hooser-newser asks “What’s not to like about AVR?” Non-citizens will be automatically registered to vote when they get a driver license. That’s what’s not to like. Far-left Dems like Hooser want new immigrants and illegal aliens to be able to vote, because they’re all likely to vote for guys like him. California already has AVR including illegal aliens voting because of it.

    1. Pete Antonson January 23, 2019 6:18 pm Reply

      You are so distant from the truth; it’s meaningless to just say you’re wrong!

  2. truth be known January 23, 2019 11:00 am Reply

    I would like to know what exactly these “Provisions to ensure that only those legally entitled to vote are put in place, that protect the integrity of the process” are. Many illegal aliens seem to be able to obtain driver’s licenses by using a friend or relative’s SS number and address. How exactly will this be addressed?

    1. Pete Antonson January 23, 2019 6:25 pm Reply

      I can’t remember if it was “Many people are saying” or “There’s a lot of talk about” or just “Truth be known seems to be able to” make sweeping statements without any evidence at all!

      1. commonsenseisnt January 24, 2019 12:45 pm Reply

        Here’s your fact check on the “illegal” voting rates

        The concern should be that with many more registered voters, our already abysmal turnout rates will drop even lower by comparison. This isn’t necessarily bad, other than for how it will make us look to the rest of the country

  3. Gary Hooser January 23, 2019 11:11 am Reply

    Mr. Conklin, Please note that I wrote “Provisions to ensure that only those legally entitled to vote are put in place, that protect the integrity of the process.”. Any measure that passes through the legislature and is signed into law, will have these protections- as has been included in other jurisdictions where AVR has been implemented.

  4. WestKauai January 23, 2019 8:36 pm Reply

    Gary, here’s what is not to like:

    Your proposal would have people that are totally not engaged in the process automatically registered to vote. It is highly unlikely that these people would take the time and effort to explore the issues and candidate qualifications in order to cast a vote that is measured and considerate of its result.

  5. james January 25, 2019 7:22 am Reply

    Totally agree. Registering to vote should be automatic, easy and convenient.

  6. Kauaidoug January 25, 2019 9:06 am Reply

    Westkauai. That argument rings hallow. Some people, I would say a lot, have determined since the last presidential election that not voting is a bad choice with consequences.

    1. WestKauai January 25, 2019 2:43 pm Reply

      Kauaidog. So you are saying that people with no interest or motivation to vote should be automatically registered? And that it is okay for them to then make uninformed voting decisions? Why?

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