The new federal law takes effect this year. But the Hawaii State Legislature enacted a conforming law that does not take effect until next year.
And that may cost Hawaii taxpayers, because the Department of Justice promises to fine offending states.
The Act requires states to mail absentee ballots to military and overseas voters 45 days before elections for federal offices.
Hawaii’s primary will be held on September 18 this year — exactly 45 days before the general election on November 2.
Chief Election Officer Scott Nago testified before the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee early this year that Hawaii’s ability to comply with the federal law in 2010 is “an impossibility.”
He explained that his office needs time to finalize election results, address legal challenges, proof contents of the ballot, print the ballots and mail them out.
“Challenges to primary results can be filed up to 6 days after the election and a resolution may take up to 9 days afterwards,” testified Nago. “It can take 7 days to proof the general election ballots.”
The new federal law, signed Oct. 28, 2009, allows states to request for a one-time waiver, if the request was submitted at least 90 days before the general election. The Department of Defense could grant a waiver only if the state ensured access to the ballot for overseas voters.
Hawaii’s Office of Elections submitted a waiver request on March 25, 2010, but say they were told that the U.S. Department of Justice had not yet figured out the specifics of what the waiver would include and waited until today for a response.
“The State’s proposed comprehensive plan for the election does not provide sufficient time for Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act voters to vote and have their ballots counted as a substitute this election for the new federal requirement,” responded Lynn C. Simpson for the Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense.
The Hawaii State Legislature passed HB 2397, signed into law on May 20, 2010 as Act 126, to conform to federal law. Act 126 moves the primary election from September to the second Saturday in August in each even numbered year, effective Jan. 1, 2011.
That means that Hawaii is not in compliance with the federal law this year and Department of Justice officials say states that do not comply will face fines.
Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii) says that, “More importantly than fines is the fact that the men and women in the military will lose their votes in this election. That, along with the closing down of 90 polling places, is just another move to shut voters down.”
The Department of Defense reports that the Federal Voters Assistance Program offers an online service that makes completing voting forms easier by developing electronic alternatives for voters to request, receive or return their ballots.
“DoD is working hard to make the absentee voting process seamless, easy, intuitive, and quick for military and overseas voters,” said Bob Carey, director, Federal Voting Assistance Program.
Military members can fill out their registration to vote and absentee ballot applications using FVAP’s online tool, and if they do not receive their ballot in time, they may use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, for which a full online tool is available.
These tools, along with the latest voting information by state, may be found at http://www.FVAP.gov. In addition, FVAP has launched a 24/7 call center for military and overseas voters, voting assistance officers, and election officials to get help with voting. Individuals can e-mail in their questions or use the online chat capability.
“The Office of Elections will continue to work with the Federal Voting Assistance Program,” says Nago. “We are confident that this collaboration will insure that the roughly 300 military and overseas voters that have requested ballots will be able to exercise their right to vote and have their votes be counted.”
For more information see: State waiver applications and DoD’s waiver responses at http://www.fvap.gov/reference/laws/waivers.html
Alaska, Colorado, the Virgin Islands, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia’s waiver requests also were rejected. Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Washington waivers were approved.
Laura Brown is the Capitol Reporter for Hawaii Reporter.