Committee amends bill for Hawaii election guide that could have cost millions
by Kim Jarrett, The Center Square, March 18, 2022
(The Center Square) – The Hawaii Senate Committee on Judiciary amended a bill that would have required state elections officials to compile a voter's guide that could cost up to $2.5 million.
House Bill 124 would have required the guide to be published for this year's elections. The committee moved the bill's effective date to Jan. 1, 2023, in time for the 2024 elections.
The guide would consist of 150-word statements from candidates running for statewide or federal offices. The candidate statements would be translated into languages covered by the Voting Rights Act, according to written testimony from Scott Nago, the state's chief election officer. The committee agreed to add a Hawaiian translation.
"The voter information guide would be made available 45 days before each election to coincide with ballots sent to uniformed and overseas voters," Nago said in his testimony.
The legislation allows the state elections office to distribute the guide by "whatever means is practical."
Publishing the guide, translating it and mailing it to voters would cost more than $2.5 million for both the primary and general election, according to Nago's testimony. The cost for publishing the guide online would be more than $119,000 for both elections.
The committee removed the references to appropriations from the bill since its effective date would not be until 2023.
Janet Mason of the League of Women Voters said her organization supports a digital only guide "as long as this office can mail a notice with each voter ballot notifying voters that a voter information guide may be found on its website."
"To further assure access, a hard copy voter information guide must be available for free to any voter who requests it, but providing one hard copy per household seems sufficient, since a primary election guide will be approximately 95 pages long and a general election guide would be about 86 pages long," Mason said in her written testimony.
The bill is backed by Common Cause Hawaii, but the organization raised concerns about how the guide would be distributed.
"As the current pandemic has revealed, many people do not have access to broadband and/or reliable mail delivery," Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said in written testimony. "Voter information guides must be made available at banks, grocery stores, community centers, public libraries, government buildings, and other locations where people are likely to gather."
Ma and Mason also asked that the guide include information on any proposed amendments on the ballot.
The amended version of the bill passed the committee and goes to the full Senate for approval.