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Hawaii Redesigns Primary Voting System

Published on August 21, 2008, by in General.

Hawaii holds an open primary on September 20, a Saturday. The state has an open primary system. Traditionally, Hawaii has printed primary ballots for each party, and given a complete set of primary ballots to each voter. The voter decides in the privacy of the voting booth which party’s primary ballot to use, and throws away the ballots of the other parties.

This year, only one primary ballot will be printed. At the top, the voter will be asked which party’s primary is desired. Then, the vote-counting machines will only accept votes cast in that particular party. If a voter happens to vote for candidates in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, the machine will only count the votes that were cast in the party that the voter had chosen at the top of the ballot. Thanks to Thomas Jones for this news.

Some major party leaders are worried that voters will choose the “Independent Party” choice at the top of the ballot. The Independent Party was placed on the ballot to get Ralph Nader on the November ballot, for president. However, the Independent Party does have two candidates running for the state legislature, but since each is unopposed in his own district, the Independent Party primary will not be very exciting. Nevertheless, if a voter chooses “Independent Party” at the top of the primary ballot, and then votes for various Democrats or Republicans, his or her vote won’t count.

Ralph Nader’s ballot access lawsuit against Hawaii from 2004 is still pending in the 9th circuit. It argues that the state cannot require six times more signatures for an independent presidential candidate than an entire new party. In some preliminary meditation talks, Hawaii elections officials said they are considering asking the legislature to reduce the number of signatures for independent presidential candidates. If Hawaii had made such a change before 2008, it wouldn’t be faced with the problem of having an “Independent Party” on the primary ballot.

5 Responses

  1. I appreciate Mr. Jones’ concerns with the integrity of Hawaii’s elections. We have a lot of problems deserving of attention. Unfortunately, he has misunderstood both the new and the old system used in our primary.

    Hawaii voters have not received the multiple ballots described in the article since 1998 when we switched from a punchcard system to an optical scan. For the last ten years, the various party races have all appeared on the same ballot, segregated from each other with a different color border. And the voters never “threw away” the other ballots. They all had to be returned and accounted for.

    Hawaii does not have a true “open” primary. It is semi-open. Voters may chose in private which party’s primary they wish to vote in, but they cannot vote in multiple party primaries, as they can in the Louisiana system or in the previous California “blanket” primary.

    This year, the voting system contract has changed from ES&S to Hart Inter-Civic. Among the changes with the new system is the “Select a Party” question. The first option in the list of parties is the “Independent Party.” Regardless of how they vote, most Hawaii voters tend to think of themselves as “independent.” The major parties have a legitimate concern that a voter might misunderstand and mark the Independent Party and then proceed to vote either Democratic or Republican. This would void the partisan portion of their ballot, which for most primary voters, is the most important part.

    On an electronic voting machine, an initial mistake like this can be rectified by “backing up” and changing the party selection. In a polling place, the ballot would have to be declared spoiled and a new ballot issued. With an increasing portion of Hawaii’s voters choosing to vote by mail, perhaps 25%, a mismarked ballot is virtually impossible to fix. “Whiteout” and marginal comments will NOT work.

    What is not yet clear –there have been conflicting reports– is what happens if a voter fails to mark a preferred party, through oversight or a principled refusal to having to identify with only one party, or from a concern that the choice may become a part of a government record.

    On the “plus” side, the “Select a Party” question may reduce the number of spoiled ballots. Previously, it was not uncommon for voters to vote mostly in one party’s primary, but also be drawn to cast a vote for a favored candidate from another party. That would void all their partisan choices. With the new ballot, only the votes for the unselected party will be disregarded. If the software is intelligent, it would only rely upon the “Select a Party” question in cases where a voter casts votes in more than one party’s primary. If the software is simpleminded, it will void all a voter’s choices, even if they are all cast for the same party’s candidates, if the voter fails to mark the party choice or if they mistakenly mark another party’s name. For the reasons stated before, we fear a number of people will mistakenly mark “Independent.”

    I HOPE I am misreading your article. Towards the end, you appear to find pleasure in the possibility Hawaii voters will be punished by karma because Nader had difficulty attaining ballot status in 2004.

    It is ridiculous that a candidate should require six times as many signatures as a new political party. It will take people of good will from all the parties to change that law next session.(I also think it is ridiculous for someone to run for president without working to build a political party, but that is a separate discussion.)

  2. Sean Clark

    Bart I think you misunderstand Louisiana’s current primary system effective Jan ’08. Our presidential preference primaries and congressional primaries are not open. Revised statutes: http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?folder=92

  3. Jim R

    If Hawaii would go to a direct presidential primary, they could avoid the problems with different requirements for presidential nominations. Persons such as Ralph Nader could file as non-partisan presidential candidates and be placed on the primary ballot, or

  4. Demo Rep

    NO need for any party hack caucuses, primaries and conventions with equal nominating petitions for direct general election ballot access, P.R. and A.V.

  5. I see that you’re still around, Demo Rep.

    I was afraid that the EVIL PARTY HACKS had done away with you.

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