Isle nonvoters don't seem to care, but why?
THOSE WHO could vote but won't are a cynical bunch, according to the latest Star-Bulletin Insider Survey.
Cynicism and an unfriendly voting system are cited as the two major reasons why voters in Hawaii are turned off.
The facts show that Hawaii has a problem getting its citizens to the polls. In 2000, just 44 percent of those 18 and older in Hawaii voted, the worst in the nation. In 2002, Hawaii mustered 45 percent, but 17 states had worse turnout rates. But in 2004, Hawaii was back at the bottom with the lowest percentage among the 50 states -- just half of those eligible to vote did so.
Our bipartisan group of lobbyists, legislators and neighborhood board chairmen were open to the idea of changing how Hawaii votes to encourage more participation. Ideas included mail-in voting, praise for the new absentee ballot drive by the Honolulu City Clerk Denise DeCosta and encouragement for more political debates and information.
One veteran lobbyist in our survey worried that "Unless we attack this problem, this election will see a repeat of our record."
"We also need to liberalize and simplify our voting process and voter registration. Voters should be able to register up to the day of the election, as long as they can show proof that they are eligible to vote," the lobbyist suggested.
Others said Hawaii should start marketing voting.
"Absentee ballots should be offered at grocery stores (and) markets in the same breath as 'plastic or paper bags?'" one legislator suggested.
Another legislator speculates that politicians don't want to encourage any more voting because the power groups that put them into office would be diluted if more voters showed up at the polls.
"Certain entities -- parties and unions -- really work their memberships to vote their way, and that has been fairly effective. So they exert a heavier influence over the independent voter who is not reminded to vote," the legislator said.
HAWAII NEEDS to be more creative, according to one business lobbyist who endorsed a whole list of ideas.
"Hawaii needs to look at more ways to make it easier for folks to vote, such as same-day registration, electronic voting kiosks in shopping malls (go to where the people are, rather than forcing people to go to polls) and combine a period of online voting with one day when folks who prefer can go to polls," the lobbyist said.
Others note those of voting age in Hawaii have lots of other things to do that compete with voting.
"More workers are protected by union contracts or a percentage basis than any other place in America. And racial, ethnic, religious, sexual tolerance is the norm. ... So what's the problem regarding voting?
"In most places, other states, regular citizens don't ever see their elected officials. They are more accessible here," one lobbyist said.
BUT ANOTHER lobbyist countered that a certain portion of Hawaii's population, especially Hawaiians, are ambivalent about voting in a nation they don't support.
"I have heard people tell me, 'Your government doesn't relate to me or represent me, it is not my government,'" he said.
A neighborhood board member said the problem is that "government is viewed as the problem.
"So elected officials are also part of the problem, and it doesn't matter whether an elected official or candidate is a Republican or Democrat. There is a growing cynicism," the board chairman said.
Another lobbyist said he thought that the election agenda is set by the news media, by what it decides to cover and what issues to emphasize.
"Media bias is much too often the subtle force that causes disinterest and cynicism among the public.
"The reporting on political life in Hawaii often reflects a media that are preoccupied with how badly public officials behave rather than pursuing important substantive public policy issues," the lobbyist said.
OTHERS, such as retired banker Jack Hoag, say that it is important for voters to see a clear choice between candidates if more people are to vote.
Hoag, who is a supporter of efforts to prohibit gay marriage, said when that issue was on a constitutional ballot in 1998, the voter turnout was higher (54 percent).
"Voter education is critical to improving voter participation," Hoag said.
writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org