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These local advocates are working to ensure voting is accessible for everyone

Over the last year, the Hawaiʻi Disability Rights Center has helped 145 people fill out voter registration forms.

“Our advocates carry these voter registration things with them, you know, everywhere,” Lou Erteschik, executive director of the center, said earlier this week.

The center’s role during elections is to ensure everybody has an equal opportunity to vote. With a wholly mail-in system, Erteschik makes sure people know they can request alternative format ballots or visit Voter Service Centers for additional help.

The centers offer people the chance to use voter machines or pick up and fill out a ballot in another language, too.

He said that in some ways, a mail-in election offers the ability to vote from the comfort of your home. But it can present challenges for some.

“Particularly if you're visually impaired, that's an issue,” Erteschik said. “So there are ways around that you can request a ballot in a certain format.”

Physical accessibility is also top of mind.

Jon Hendricks, the county clerk for the County of Hawaiʻi, said that since 2020, they’ve added more ballot drop-off boxes based on where voters live.

“Whenever we get a chance to reasonably and appropriately and thoughtfully, expand access to voters, we will take that opportunity,” Hendricks said.

For example, the county added a drop-off in Waikoloa.

“There is a relatively dense population of our voters out there with the next closest place that they can deposit being relatively far from that area being in Kona and Kohala, perhaps Waimea,” Hendricks said.

And since deposit boxes are open at all hours, Hendricks said it’s important to have them at safe spaces, like neighborhood police departments.

“When you offer somebody or a person something that's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you would expect that somebody might use it at quote/unquote odd hours,” Hendricks said. “Maybe not odd to them, but odd to the rest of us that might not have that schedule, and in doing so, want to make sure that you don't put anybody unnecessarily in harm's way or at risk.”

Offerings at “odd hours” is partially the idea with the pop-up voter service centers on Oʻahu. Rex Quidilla with the City and County of Honolulu Elections Division said the location open in Wahiawa is meant for a crowd who might not be able to vote during regular business hours.

“This particular pop-up is open from non-traditional hours,” he said. “It opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 6:30 p.m. You know, we set those times hoping, thinking possibly by having the extended hours it'll help people coming home from work to be able to vote.”

Rather than look at Saturday as “primary election day” — it might be better to think of it as the last day of an election period. Ballots need to be received by 7 p.m. on Aug. 13 to be counted, so it’s best to drop off ballots at a Voter Service Center or deposit box. Those locations can be found online at elections.hawaii.gov.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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