Enact automatic voter registration to modernize elections


by Jodi Malinoski 

When there is virtually no opposition and an outpouring of support for a bill that only promises to improve our civic life, decision-making for our lawmakers should be easy.

The Sierra Club of Hawai‘i, on behalf of its 20,000 members and supporters, joins several other advocates in supporting the enactment of automatic voter registration (AVR) via Senate Bill 412 and House Bill 1217. As an organization that often advocates for underrepresented communities facing environmental challenges and injustices, we see this as progress toward ensuring that those communities where voter turnout has historically been low have an easier path to participating in the democratic process.

By making registration automatic whenever someone gets a driver’s license or updates their address at the DMV, voters are more likely to be ready to vote when Election Day rolls around. We welcome that — and so should our lawmakers.

AVR is the logical next step in modernizing our electoral system by eliminating needless paperwork. It has been estimated that paper registration costs 30 times more than AVR. The possibility of human error in transcribing voter information from paper forms will be reduced and the state could save the nearly $600,000 it spent in 2016 alone in processing paper forms.

These are considerable benefits that should encourage lawmakers to make AVR a reality without delay. And if it also can help restore Hawaii’s once high voter turnout, that alone should make lawmakers run, not walk, to make it happen.

The Sierra Club of Hawai‘i is committed to ensuring a fair, open and transparent democratic process. We encourage our members and supporters to actively protect their right to vote, have their voices heard in government, and consistently engage in the legislative process.

Automatic voter registration would make these efforts just that much easier for many Hawaii residents. It will also give more eligible voters the ability to make sure their voices are heard in pushing back against corporate interests that are seeking to monetize our natural resources at the expense of local communities and the health of our ecosystems.

Having among the lowest voter turnouts in the U.S. for the last 20 years is a distinction we need to shed. Never has it been more important for people — particularly working families, homebound seniors, students, and voters in rural areas — to participate in upholding good governance and advancing sound, informed public policy that reflects the will of the people and not corporate interests.

In a state where the high cost of living results in many workers juggling two or more jobs, any reduction in the bureaucracy surrounding registering to vote is something we should all welcome. Automatic voter registration will strengthen our democracy, increase the security of our elections, and is simply the most cost effective, accurate, modern and efficient system available.

It falls squarely within our elected officials’ public commitment to innovation in government to better serve everyone’s needs.

We commend the lawmakers who are working to expand the electorate by making it simpler for all eligible people to register to vote, no matter where they live, how educated they are, or how much money they make.

It is the duty of all our representatives to enact AVR this session. There is no reason to delay.