Mahalo ʻAʻohe (“No Thanks”) – Honolulu Declines to Help State with Online Registration


[Image courtesy of hawaiianbeachrentals]

Looking back through the archives of this blog, I notice lots of stories about online registration – and several stories about the continued election administration challenges in Hawaii. Interestingly enough, those two threads had never come together.

Until now.

The Honolulu Civil Beat is reporting that the City of Honolulu is declining an opportunity to assist the state with implementation of an online registration system:

Since the city is already managing the state ID system and processing state driver’s licenses — key databases for verifying voter identification — state officials were hoping the city might be inclined to help implement the new registration system, too.

No luck.

The state Office of Elections is going to have to find a way to get the new system up and running on its own. The office has until the 2016 primary election to do so, as mandated by a law Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed in 2012.

Scott Nago, Hawaii elections chief, told lawmakers in April that he asked the city to enter into a memorandum of agreement to work with his office to ensure that the new online system is ready in time.

The city, he lamented, has “other commitments” that prevent it from helping.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s spokesman, Jesse Broder Van Dyke, said Monday that it is a question of limited resources; the city simply can’t afford the cost of taking on the online voter registration system.

As a consequence of the city’s refusal, the state is going to have to go it alone – not unusual for most states, but a challenge for a state that depends so heavily on its largest jurisdiction:

[T]he Office of Elections is looking into developing a separate system that would be networked in with the city’s databases, Nago said.

The Legislature appropriated $500,000 last year for the Office of Elections to use in the planning and design of the new voter registration system. With that phase done, Nago said the next step involves putting the system into place.

Nago said his office will be seeking bids from companies to do so, but he wasn’t sure when those would go out. There is, he added, no estimate of how much the next phase will cost.

The change in plans will likely affect the implementation timeline:

Hawaii’s new online voter registration system is expected to make it easier for some of the state’s 275,000-plus unregistered voters to become registered.

It won’t be ready in time for the 2014 election — featuring the already-heated Senate race between Brian Schatz and Colleen Hanabusa to fill the remaining two years of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye’s term.

This story appears to be somewhat unique to Hawaii – again, it’s hard to think of another state where one jurisdiction is so central to state operations – but it is a strong reminder about the gap between enactment and implementation of election policy changes like online registration.

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