Poor turnout puts isles in crosshairs
A change in the Voting Rights Act could put Hawaii under federal supervision.
HAWAII'S notoriety for poor voter turnout has become a target for peevish Republican members of Congress looking for ways to redirect priorities of the Voting Rights Act
and shift enforcement of the law from their states.
The 1965 act was put in place to counter racial discrimination at the polls, which by and large has not been prevalent in Hawaii, but the low number of voters is being cast as an indication of a problem needing the attention of federal authorities. That would dilute the limited resources allocated for full Justice Department oversight in nine states, most of them in the South, and in segments of seven others.
The amendment that would put Hawaii under federal scrutiny came from Rep. Charlie Norwood, one of two Republicans from Georgia who have introduced measures to obstruct reauthorization of the law that expires next year. Quick passage of the extension, which had the support of President Bush, had been promised by House and Senate leaders, but it became entangled in the intra-Republican fight over immigration.
The law requires that bilingual ballots be available where large numbers of voters speak languages other than English, a chafing issue among some Republicans who forced postponement of a vote on the extension.
The amendment isn't likely to gain enough support. However, Hawaii voters' disinterest in choosing local and national leaders is disgraceful.
This apathy has been variously ascribed to a lack of competition in a state dominated by one party, busy work schedules and a feeling that one candidate is much like another. It also has been explained as a distortion of numbers. Though the U.S. Census Bureau reports that only 51 percent of the Hawaii's eligible voting-age population cast ballots in 2004, state officials say the percentage of registered voters who went to the polls was higher.
But no matter how the figures are sliced, Hawaii falls way behind national averages and this amounts to disenfranchisement nonetheless.
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