In a recent Facebook Live Town Hall with Oahu Democrats, Senator Karl Rhoads spoke with optimism about the prospect of making Automatic Voter Registration a reality in Hawaii.
“I’ve been pushing this for 12 years,” he said. More than once he pointed out that enacting AVR “is the right thing to do.” He commended Speaker Scott Saiki for initiating one of the AVR bills. “I give him credit for doing this right after coming out of a closely contested race for his own seat. Clearly he believes it is the right thing to do.”
Asked about the objection raised at times by Republicans that it will lead to voter fraud, Rhoads dismissed it as a “red herring.”
“Voting is a constitutional right. Yet we know there have been barriers put up to voting in many places across the nation. As lawmakers, we know that removing those barriers is both constitutional and desirable.”
Acknowledging Senator Amy Klobuchar’s efforts to improve access to voting, Rhoads emphasized that Hawaii should act now and not wait to see what happens to Federal legislation around the issue.
“If it happens, that’s great. But we should not wait. There is no call for funding. Money should not be the issue. I’ve been introducing this for 12 years and I would like to see it pass. Getting people’s voter registration updated through the DMV will cover the vast majority of the public.”
Clearly improving the health of our democracy is a non-partisan issue that everyone should embrace. At this virtual Town Hall for Oahu Democrats, County Chair, Lorna Strand agreed with the moderator, John Bickel, that voting rights should be part of the state’s Democratic platform. “I was disappointed to not find any language protecting the right to vote in the Democratic Party platform,” said Bickel. Strand said she would welcome the introduction of suggestions to that effect when the Convention happens in May.
In addition to Senator Rhoads’ bill, SB 282, and Speaker Saiki’s bill, HB 349, several other bills have been introduced to pass AVR in Hawaii. If you haven’t already done so, go to https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/ and create an account. Then sign up to receive updates when hearings are scheduled so that you can register in advance to testify via ZOOM–which is how all hearings will be conducted this session. The bad news is that these virtual hearings deprive us of the opportunity to gather in person and interact with each other. The good news–and it is very important good news– is that, finally, Neighbor Island folks can participate in policy-making at the State Capitol without the expense of travel or the need to leave their day jobs to make the trip to Oahu. Spread the word. We all need to help strengthen our democracy that has been under inordinate stress.
AVR Bill Update: Sandy Ma, Executive Director of Common Cause reported last week that AVR Bill HB 740, which was heard on Thursday 2/4/2021, was passed unanimously, with amendments, out of the House Judiciary Committee. That bill now moves to the House Finance Committee.
University of Hawaii Honors student, Erika Ponce de Leon Johnson was among the many who submitted testimony in support of AVR. Her commentary, drawing on her experience as a Peruvian, and her aspirations as a recently naturalized American who looks forward to voting in local and national US elections, was published on Civil Beat recently.