Alaskans, dissatisfied with their ballot choices, spoke loud and clear. In Hawaii, their voices would have been silenced.
The state is one of just five that has a total ban on write-in voting. But Hawaii Senate Bill 205 would change that.
The bill, introduced in January by State Senator Les Ihara Jr., would add space on every ballot for write-in votes. It would grant Hawaii residents the freedom to vote for, quite literally, anyone.
“Write-in candidates are long-shots, except in rare cases,” Ihara told me during a recent interview. “And I’d like to allow for those rare cases so the will of the voters can be heard.”
It’s been more than a decade since Ihara first introduced legislation that would bring write-in voting to the Aloha state. But, he said, “I don’t recall there’s ever been a hearing on it.” He chalks this up to a lack of interest: “You don’t miss what you’ve never had.”
The time has come for write-in voting in Hawaii. Today, write-in candidates have the power to shake up elections. They can even win them, as Murkowski demonstrated.
Lacking cash and without the backing of political parties, write-in candidates can reach out to voters with ideas rather than with open palms. They offer outside-the-box thinking rather than stamped-and-approved slogans. And, using modern technology, they have the ability to speak directly to voters through methods that don’t require million-dollar war chests.
SB 205 would align Hawaii’s write-in procedures with those of many other states. To be eligible for office, write-in candidates would have to file a “declaration of intent” seven calendar days before an election. Officials would count individual write-in votes only if their lump sum exceeds the number of votes cast for the winning ballot candidate. The bill also acknowledges that past objections have been raised about the cost of tallying write-in votes, but, it says, such concerns are outweighed “by the public’s interest in voting for the candidate of their, and not a political party’s, choice.”
Hawaii residents deserve to be able to support fringe candidates, to cast protest votes, and to rally behind politicians who don’t fit the party mold. They shouldn’t be denied the experience of staring at a blank space on a ballot with the knowledge that here in the United States of America we’re truly free to vote as we please.
After all, it was the Founding Fathers’ founding father who said our choices in the voting booth shouldn’t be limited to Democrats and Republicans, Federalists and Anti-Federalists. George Washington, in his 1796 Farewell Address, told the nation: “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of the wise people to discourage and restrain it.”
Political parties, he added, “serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party.”
Still, SB 205 will be a tough sell in the Hawaii legislature. The state’s elected officials ascended to office through the existing process, and they have nothing to gain by opening elections to more competition. Hawaii residents should tell their representatives to join Ihara in putting the will of the nation above the will of a party. Bring write-in voting to Hawaii.
Austin Wright runs the website writethevote.com, which advocates for and reports on write-in campaigns across the country.