Thursday, July 29, 2004

Hawaii trails
in voter sign-up

A census report ranks the state
dead last for registration in
2002, but turnout was better

Hawaii had the lowest registration level in the country for the 2002 elections, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released yesterday.

It continues a trend in voter apathy from the 2000 elections when Hawaii was also at the bottom of the list with only about one person in two registering to vote.

Percent of eligible
voters registered

Top five states

Maine: 80.8
Minnesota: 79.5
South Dakota: 75.6
Dist. of Columbia: 76.0
Louisiana: 75.0

Bottom five states

California: 61.2
New Mexico: 59.0
Arizona: 58.6
Nevada: 56.6
Hawaii: 53.1

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

There was some good news for Hawaii. In the 2000 election, Hawaii also had the lowest voter turnout in the country.

But in 2002, voter turnout was on par with the national average of about 46 percent. Hawaii ranked 34th among states and the District of Columbia in the percentage of eligible voters who actually cast ballots.

The census report on voting and registration in 2002 noted a record high of 128 million registered voters in the United States, about 67 percent of those eligible.

Voter turnout and registration are historically higher in presidential election years, so this year's election might see more voters here.

Both major political parties are mounting voter registration drives, and there is a national effort to register young people. The report notes that the lowest voting rate (19 percent) is among adults ages 18 to 24. Only 43 percent of younger citizens are registered to vote.

State elections officials say while they try to make it easy to register and vote, it is not their job to encourage people to register.

"We try to make our services as accessible as possible, but we can't force people to use them," said Dwayne Yoshina, chief election officer. "The educational, political and societal system has to do something to change that."

Yoshina added that the figures in the report might not be totally accurate because the Census Bureau uses the number of eligible voters who are age 18 and older, and that number includes Hawaii's nonresidential military personnel. The difference in the number could possibly bump Hawaii from the bottom by a couple of spots, Yoshina said.

Hawaii residents are able to fill in a voter form at numerous venues, making it easier to register than in previous years, Yoshina said.

Hawaii Democratic Party spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said she thought voter apathy caused many not to vote in the 2002 election in which Republican Linda Lingle beat Democrat Mazie Hirono in the race for governor.

"I was surprised not many people voted, because it was a big year to vote -- at least, I had hoped for it," Dela Cruz said.

"A lot of the attitude in Hawaii was apathetic," she said. "Instead of educating themselves on certain issues, they would think there's no sense (in voting)."

"Negative campaigning turns voters off, and that's what happened in 2002," said Brennon Morioka, Hawaii Republican Party chairman. "We're hoping this election stays much cleaner and sticks with the issues."

Morioka noted because the Office of Elections has been underfunded for the last years, the parties have taken it upon themselves to encourage people to vote and to have registration drives.

University of Hawaii-Manoa political science professor Ira Rohter believes voter turnout will be higher for the presidential election.

Rohter said with pop culture becoming involved in politics, more people, especially the younger generations, are informed of this year's presidential election.

"We're looking forward to a bigger turnout," Morioka said. "It (the presidential election) has gotten a lot more attention than I've seen in a number of years."

The Republican Party has been working with churches, various organizations and high schools to get more voters. Morioka said they will continue working throughout the summer to increase voter registration.

Dela Cruz said Democrats have seen an increase of younger people interested in joining the party.

The Democratic Party will be holding registration drives in the next two months at UH-Manoa, a senior fair at the Neil Blaisdell Center and a luau fund-raiser at Ko Olina.

At the Hawaii State Farm Fair starting Friday at Kapolei, the City Clerk's Office will register Oahu residents to vote.

"This year, there is going to be a change," Dela Cruz noted, thanks in part to the release of Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11" and the recent appointment of Democratic Chairman Brickwood Galuteria.

"It's saddening to know that people aren't making the effort to vote and using the right to vote," Dela Cruz said.

State Elections office


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