by Andrew Walden
Hawaii's 2010 election schedule violates federal law.
Under the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, signed into law as part of the Defense Authorization Act October 28 by President Barack Obama, ballots must be mailed to overseas voters--including deployed US military personnel-- at least 45 days before an election.
In reaction to MOVE becoming law, State election officials nationwide are scrambling. Minnesota Secretary of State Marc Ritchie is asking legislators to move Minnesota's September 14 primary up by at least one month. Colorado officials are working to move their 2012 primary to the first Tuesday in August and plan to request a waver for their 2010 Primary. Earlier this year, Nevada legislators voted to move their August 2010 primary up to June. AP quotes Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz saying: "I strongly believe that if we made a change to August, politicians would adapt, voters would adapt.”
Hawaii has the latest Primary Election in the nation--next scheduled for Saturday, September 18, 2010. The Hawaii State Constitution requires Primaries to be held at least 45 days before any General Election. HRS 12-2 places the Primary "on the second to the last Saturday of September in every even numbered year; provided that in no case shall any primary election precede a general election by less than forty-five days." September 18 is exactly 45 days before General Election Day, November 2, 2010.
But because of the time required to count votes and adjudicate any disputed election results, the Hawaii 2010 election calendar names Tuesday September 28, 2010 as the day on which General Election ballots will be mailed to overseas voters. This provides only 35 days for military personnel to receive their ballots fill them out and return them. Because international mails are slow--sometimes taking a month in each direction--and because many deployed personnel, especially those in combat, do not receive their mail on a daily basis, many military personnel were unable to vote in the 2008 Presidential election. Also potentially disenfranchised, Peace Corps volunteers and other Hawaii voters who may be living or working overseas at election time. Many of them may be subject to third-world postal systems with delivery slower than military mail.
A federal study cited by the PEW foundation indicates that in 2006 only one-third of 1 million overseas ballots requested were actually cast. Military votes are often returned to election commissions too late to be counted under election rules. In the 2008 General Election Oahu Precinct 46-02, encompassing Schofield Barracks, had only a 23.3% turnout--as opposed to 66.0% statewide. After the 2004 General Election, Hawaii County Election officials reported that 2,500 Hawaii National Guard members training in Texas before deployment to Iraq did not receive their General Election ballots.
Overseas voting in Hawaii has often been slim. In the 2004 general election Hawaii reported only 459 overseas ballots cast. In the 2003 Second Congressional District special election no overseas ballots were cast. In the 2002 Primary election only two overseas ballots were cast. Overseas results were not itemized in the 2002 General election nor in the 2002 Special election. In the 2000 general election 80 overseas ballots were cast. Fifteen were cast in the 2000 primary election.
Hawaii’s military population includes about 40,000 active, reserve, and National Guard troops, along with 18,000 civilian DoD employees, and more than 55,000 military dependents. There are also over 120,000 veterans in Hawaii.
To comply with the absolute minimum requirements of MOVE, Hawaii Election Officials would need to mail out 2010 General Election ballots on September 18, 2010. To keep Primary Day on a Saturday and maintain the existing 10-day window for ballot counting and post election challenges and recounts to be settled, the earliest possible Primary Election Day would have to be moved up a minimum of 14 days.
But Hawaii has the lowest voter participation in the nation and squeezing elections into the shortest possible time period does not help to change that. According to the 2010 Election Calendar, a two week period from Friday September 3, 2010 to Thursday September 16, 2010 is allowed for civilian walk-in absentee balloting for the Primary Election. If civilian voters are allowed this much leeway in getting around to casting their ballots, certainly Hawaii can give at least the same two weeks of extra time to deployed military personnel who may have to contend with multi-day patrols, dust, fleas, scorpions and enemy fire, while considering their voting choices. To maintain Saturday primaries, the result would be a Primary Election Day scheduled on or before the third or fourth Saturday in August.
Maximizing the participation of military voters is a moral imperative which elected officials find difficult to publicly oppose or obstruct, but for Hawaii an earlier Primary Day can also pay off in the strengthening of civilian voter participation. By allowing voters more time to hear public debate over the opposing General Election candidates, voters will more clearly see the choices with which they are confronted--thus creating greater interest and greater participation in the election.
Because it may not be realistic to change the election calendar at this late date, Hawaii's Chief Election Officer Kevin Cronin is considering requesting a FEC waiver from the MOVE rules for the 2010 election. As in Colorado, Hawaii Legislators should provide federal election officials with evidence of good faith by acting this session to amend HRS 12-2 and move the 2012 Primary Election to a date in mid-August or earlier.
SB: Earlier primary voting considered
Navy Times: Troop ballot law has states in a time squeeze
Nat'l Association of Secretaries of State: NASS Summary of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act
Military voter registration: http://www.fvap.gov/
Hawaii 2010 Election Schedule: http://hawaii.gov/elections/factsheets/fsbo100.pdf
Heritage: America's Military Voters: Re-enfranchising the Disenfranchised
Pew: Pew Applauds Bipartisan “MOVE” To Fix Military and Overseas Voting
GOP: Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act is One Step Away From Becoming Law
Democrats: President Obama Signs the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act into Law
HFP: Will Soldiers Get to Vote in 2008?