‘50 percent plus 1’ rule isn’t best for isle voters
Without regard to the results of Saturday's primary election, may I suggest one election rule that makes no sense: the rule that anyone who wins a primary race in a nonpartisan election with "50 percent plus one" of the vote is automatically elected and does not have to run in the November general election. This rule in Hawaii is not the general rule nationally, where the norm in local elections is two candidates advancing for every position. This rule would make sense only if the runoff election were held immediately following the primary and everyone voted in both elections.
I see at least three strong arguments against the Hawaii rule. The most important is that voter turnout is much lower in the primaries. The turnout Saturday was reported at about 35 percent. In the last presidential election year (2004), the turnout in Hawaii for the general election was 67 percent - almost twice that rate. With the local excitement about the 2008 presidential race, I suspect the turnout in November this year also will be high. As a matter of public policy and to give legitimacy to the elected official, the election decision should be made by the greatest number of voters.
A second and related argument is that the lower the voter turnout, the greater the possibility of a well-organized, highly motivated but unrepresentative group of voters effectively stealing the election. For example, suppose only 20 percent of the registered voters in a district prefer candidate A in the election, but they all vote in the primary. With only a 35 percent turnout, candidate A wins with more than 55 percent of the votes cast and does not stand for election in November. In November with a 60 percent turnout, candidate A would lose, receiving only 33 percent of the votes.
A third benefit of deferring the final decision until the general election is that voters generally become better informed about the candidates as the general election nears. There is more interest in the general election (hence, the greater turnout), and the additional six weeks allows time for additional public forums and discussions regarding the narrowed field of candidates. The combination of more voters and better-informed voters will yield a more legitimate result.
I see only one reason for the present rule - to save the likely winner from having to run in the second election. In most cases, the primary winner will also win handily in November. But in the case where a candidate wins the primary in a very close election, it is not at all certain that that candidate will be the choice in the general election if almost twice as many voters participate. If he wouldn't win in the general election, he certainly should not be declared the winner in the primary.
Let's get this rule changed before 2010.
Robert W. Hastings, an attorney, lives in Kamuela, Hawaii.