House Bill 853 – Ensuring Free and Fair Elections

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By: J. S.

In the wake of the 2020 elections, two Hawaii House Representatives are proposing a bill to ensure Hawaii has free and fair elections. In January, Republican Representatives Ward and McDermott proposed a bill to combat election fraud with updated requirements for ballot boxes and standards for official observers. House Bill 853 features updated procedures and rules to ensure ballots are securely stored and properly handled throughout the voting process. Ballot boxes may also stay open for longer, so voters may submit ballots for ten business days leading up to any election.

The bill would tackle several features that raised questions during the 2020 election process. The right to fair and free elections is at the core of our civil rights as Americans, and it became evident during the last election that updated and revised laws are needed to protect this right and ensure peace of mind.

One of the main focuses of the bill is ensuring that elected officials and official observers are from differing political parties. During the counting process, the bill mandates the presence of two official observers, not of the same political party. Another important factor is that it must be ensured there are two official observers at each counting station within a counting center. 

Voter service centers, or ballot drop offs, are established at the Office of The Clerk, and may be established at additional locations to help service community needs. The County Clerk is responsible for deciding where to place additional ballot drop off locations. Specifically, 24 hour security, population density, public transport, community need and more must be factored into the Clerk’s decision. The Clerk is also responsible for making sure that each location is securely maintained during the time it is open. An update to the bill would increase the length of time for voters to drop off ballots, extending that time from 5 business days to 10 business days leading up to an election.

According to the bill, ballot boxes must maintain the security of all ballots by ensuring they are not overflowing. The bill would require there to be 24 hour surveillance on all boxes, and also inside all boxes. When boxes are emptied, the bill states that two people must empty the box, and that a record of date and time for each emptied box must be maintained. Secure transport must be used to bring all ballots to the counting centers. All secured ballots, along with the logs of when they were brought to the counting center, must be secured by 7 p.m. on the day of the primary, general or special election.

During the 2020 election, a large concern centered on who was counting the ballots, and what the accountability was for those individuals. The bill would ensure that ballots are counted in teams consisting of one elected official reading the vote out loud, another elected official tallying the vote, and one elected official each to watch the reader and the tallier. Those completing the actions, and those watching the actions, would be required to be from different political parties. In addition, two official observers of different political parties would be assigned to each team.

Electronic counting machines are also covered in the bill. The bill states that “no electronic voting system or tabulator shall be used if tabulators, voter assistance terminals (VAT), memory cards, and flash drives cannot be securely stored, or the VAT and tabulator cannot be air gapped from internet, wifi and bluetooth access.”

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