Hawaii’s military population includes about 40,000 active, reserve, and National Guard troops, along with 18,000 civilian DoD employees, and more than 55,000 military dependents. There are also over 120,000 veterans in Hawaii. All of these people can register to vote in Hawaii, their home state, or as federal-only voters (voting only for Federal offices). Despite all these options, voter turnout among military is exceptionally low.
It is difficult to find a single clear picture of the entire service. Hawaii’s statewide 2006 general election summary report gives a clue, indicating only 237 overseas ballots cast by Hawaii-resident federal voters.
In the 2004 general election Hawaii reported 459 overseas ballots cast. But earlier elections tell a story of neglect: In the 2003 Second Congressional District special election no overseas ballots were cast.
In the 2002 Primary election only two overseas ballots were cast. Overseas results were not itemized in the 2002 General election nor in the 2002 Special election.
In the 2000 general election 80 overseas ballots were cast. Fifteen were cast in the 2000 primary election.
Part of the problem is the short turn-around time between the September 20 Primary election and the November 4 General election. Primary election absentee ballots are mailed out August 16. General election absentee ballots are mailed out September 30, effectively creating a five-week window.
For personnel in combat zones, on submarines, or aboard ship this is nearly impossible timing. A patrolling submarine may not receive mail for six months at a time; ships irregularly; forward-deployed combat units perhaps once every two weeks.
Personnel transferred to a new post may have mail delayed by two or three weeks or more. If ballot preparation is delayed by a disputed election result or a recount, the schedule gets even tighter. Many young recruits never even register.
For military and their families who miss the in-state registration deadlines, it’s still possible to register and vote as federal-only. But if being shut out of local and state races stings, it’s always possible to help the process by encouraging other eligible people to vote.