Ozawa-Waters Race Highlights Flaws in Hawaiʻi's Voting System

Apr 16, 2019

Credit Federal Voting Assistance Program

Problems counting mail-in ballots and an extremely small margin created chaos in the 2018 Honolulu City Council election between Tommy Waters and Trevor Ozawa. Several bills at the legislature aim to correct those problems.

A suite of voting reform bills have entered the final stages of legislative approval at the state capitol. They would address everything from voter registration to recounts in close elections.

Many of the measures are designed to remove some of the uncertainty that can arise in closely contested races, particularly in the rush to quickly issue a final vote count. If the bills pass elections with a margin of less than half of one percent or fewer than 100 votes cast would automatically trigger a mandatory recount.

Another proposal would expand voting by mail, but also lays out clearer procedures for dealing with mail-in ballots that come in late or show signs of potential tampering.

Ranked choice voting, which requires voters to preference rank each candidate on the ballot rather than just choosing one, could also be coming to Hawaii ballot boxes.

But according to Janet Mason of the League of Women Voters Hawaii, these bills do not address the biggest problem with the state’s electoral system.

“The big problem is that such a small percentage of those eligible to vote are actually voting.”

Making voter registration easier is also on the agenda for state lawmakers. A bill headed to conference committee would automatically register eligible voters when they apply for or renew their Hawaii driver’s license; a method that has been successful in raising the number of registered organ donors.

The 2019 legislative session concludes on May 2nd.

Voting bills currently alive at the state legislature include:

SB 216 – Mandatory Recounts

HB 1485 – Automatic Voter Registration

HB 1248 – Expansion of Voting by Mail

SB 427 – Ranked Choice Voting