Voting Rights Groups Demand State and County Clerks Bridge Gaps After Move to All Vote-By-Mail in 2020 Elections

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  • Sandy Ma Executive Director of Common Cause Hawaii (808) 275-6275

HONOLULU – Common Cause Hawaii, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and ACLU of Hawai’i Foundation demand that State Office of Elections and County Clerks bridge election gaps resulting from the new all vote-by-mail system rolled out this year for the August primary and November general elections. The voting rights groups are represented at this stage by Jeffrey Portnoy of the Cades Schutte law firm.

Earlier this year, election officials reduced vote centers from 250 to only eight statewide — two on Oahu and Hawaii Island and one each on Kauai, Maui, Molokai, Kauai, and Lanai Islands. These vote centers allow the public to vote in-person, drop off their ballots, register to vote on the same day, and more. This is the first time Hawaii will be voting by mail without traditional polling sites.

The demand letter sent today says, in part:

Rising unemployment in Hawaii will likely lead to increased transience and dislocation. As residents are either forced or decide to move from their homes, it will be harder for them to receive ballots mailed to their addresses on file. This is especially true of younger voters with less permanent residences, such as college students who have been forced to leave their on-campus housing. Many people experiencing homelessness in Hawaii have no access to personal mail services and can only cast their ballot through in-person voting at a VSC. Furthermore, voters with disabilities may have their ballots sent to them electronically, but not every voter with a disability has access to a computer, printer, and internet connection and will need to vote in person. These voters and voters in dense urban communities will be forced to crowd into one or two VSCs per island, waiting in line for hours, risking their health and the health of their families in order to exercise their right to vote.

Among Hawaii’s rural populations, many voters do not have home mailboxes and do not receive personal mail delivery services. Instead, under the current proclamation, these voters may be forced to travel for hours in order to reach the nearest VSC. To exacerbate this burden, once at the VSC these rural voters will be similarly subjected to long lines and crowding that place their health and the health of their families in jeopardy. Crowding at VSCs will also put poll workers at greater risk by greatly increasing the number of persons with whom they must interact.

Moving entirely to vote-by-mail without providing ample vote service centers is a major endeavor. Hawaii voters need more than eight vote centers statewide that will be open more convenient hours. The Hawaii State Office of Elections and County Clerks should not risk long lines at vote centers as Hawaii will likely be voting during the ongoing pandemic.

The following quotes and attributions may be used in your coverage of this important issue.

“The move to Vote-by-Mail is an important step for Hawaii but we must take that step wisely. There are significant numbers of people who will need access to vote centers and we cannot increase participation by ignoring the needs of people in Hawaii with disabilities, or who are temporarily displaced or experiencing homelessness due to high unemployment expected to continue. Most importantly, we don’t want people in Hawaii to have to choose between their health and casting a ballot during the coronavirus pandemic. Increasing the number of vote centers and hours they operate will allow people to spread out and cast their vote safely in person if necessary.”

Sandy Ma, Executive Director of Common Cause Hawaii

“The state of Hawaii has numerous options to provide all citizens the ability to vote in person or by mail but instead has chosen the most limited and potentially harmful choice during a pandemic,” said Natasha Chabria, voting rights fellow, at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The more options a state like Hawai’i can provide to registered voters, the safer the state’s voting will be, and this includes those who administer elections and poll workers. Hawai’i recently reported its highest single-day total for coronavirus cases so now is not the time to reduce polling stations and further cloister citizens together when safer options are available.”

Natasha Chabria, Voting Rights Fellow at Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

“The right to vote is our most cherished constitutional right because it protects and preserves all other rights. Cades Schutte LLP is proud to work with our clients on this critical issue and advocate for those citizens who may not get to exercise this most fundamental right in November.”

Jeffrey Portnoy, Attorney at Cades Schutte LLP