author On Politics

Richard Borreca

Sunday, September 26, 2004

There are remedies
for low voter turnout

Before we completely forget the 2004 primary election's miserable voter turnout and the 9,559 invalid ballots, think about three names.

James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

Forty years ago the bodies of Chaney, an African-American, Goodman and Schwerner, both white, were found buried in an earthen dam in Neshoba County, Miss. They had been beaten and shot to death. Their crime, according to the Ku Klux Klan, was registering people to vote.

While Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were murdered, hundreds more were brutally beaten and bombed before the Voting Rights Act passed the next year.

If you say 40 years ago is too long ago to care about, consider May of this year when two British volunteers and their Afghan translator were gunned down 100 miles east of Kabul.

They were murdered by the Taliban. Again the crime was registering people to vote.

"If Afghans go for voter registration the punishment is the same as for these three people," Abdul Hakim Latifi, speaking for the Taliban, said.

In Hawaii, neither racists nor the enforcers for oppressive religious regimes prevent us from voting. Usually, it's merely indifference that keeps people from casting ballots, but this year there was a new twist: Our failing was a misunderstanding of voting directions. Those 9,559 ballots were rejected because voters had voted for candidates in more than one party. It was the highest number of spoiled ballots in any Hawaii primary election.

If 3.8 percent of all the voters in a state election fail to have their votes count, the fault is not with the voters, it is with the system. Voter education programs in the past decade have been lackluster at best. The state has spent very little to urge people to register or to vote.

Hawaii has lacked an aggressive voter-education program since John Waihee was lieutenant governor, 20 years ago. To get people to the polls, political scientists say three things work: same-day voter registration, longer poll hours and mailing each voter a sample of his or her own ballot. Those three suggestions should raise voter turnout eight percentage points.

Voting completely by mail also would help. Oregon's elections are completely by mail; there are no polls, poll workers or election day worries about rain or football games. Turnout is 86 percent and fears of vote fraud haven't materialized.

After the Sept.18 primary election, the results revealed the problem. If the state does nothing, the shame will haunt us for years.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at rborreca@starbulletin.com.



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