Hawaii dead last in voter turnout


POSTED: Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What appeared to be a groundswell of support from young voters for a Hawaii-born presidential candidate never materialized into ballots cast as the 50th state once again came in last among states in voter participation.

New figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show only 51.8 percent of registered voters in the islands went to the polls in the 2008 presidential election.

What was more surprising to veteran political scientist Neil Milner was the lack of votes cast by younger people who many thought had mobilized to support Barack Obama.

Among eligible voters in the 18-24 age group in Hawaii, 25 percent voted, compared with 67 percent of those 75 and older, according to the bureau. Nationally, 48.5 percent of those 18-24 voted.

“;Lots of folks assumed that because Obama was from here and because he was mobilizing youth votes, that would be higher,”; Milner said.

Overall, Hawaii's turnout rate, which was the lowest nationally in 2002 and again in 2004, was not surprising, he added.

“;We already have a well-established tradition of low voting turnout in national elections,”; he said. “;The total absence of competitive elections here helps to create an atmosphere where people just don't take voting very seriously.

“;Voting may be a civic duty, but in lots of ways it's also a habit. Civic duty isn't necessarily something that motivates people.”;

Nationwide, about 131 million people reported voting in the 2008 election, an increase of 5 million from 2004, the bureau said.

The state with the next-lowest voter turnout rate was Utah at 53.1 percent.





        Despite high expectations about youth participation in the last presidential election, young people did not show up at the polls in Hawaii. Here is a look the percentage of eligible voters, by age, who cast ballots in the state:

18 to 24: 25 percent


25 to 44: 41 percent


45 to 64: 62 percent


65 to 74: 64 percent


75-older: 67 percent


Source: U.S. Census Bureau (age ranges set by Census Bureau)


Minnesota—where a highly competitive campaign for the U.S. Senate ended this month with comedian Al Franken being declared the winner—had the highest turnout among states with 75 percent, while the national turnout rate came in at 63.6 percent.

Hawaii Democratic Party Chairman Brian Schatz called the state numbers “;awful.”;

“;It comes down to education,”; he said. “;I hope that next year—with the stakes so high—that people understand that they've got to take hold of their own future, and the best way to start is through voting.”;

Since statehood in 1959, when voter turnout was above 90 percent, Hawaii's participation rate has steadily declined, with only slight bumps in presidential election years. Voter participation was 58.2 percent in 2000 and 66.7 percent in 2004 but only 57 percent and 52.7 percent in 2002 and 2006, respectively.

Hawaii voters have gained notoriety in recent years more for voting for reality show contestants or for stuffing the online ballot box for a local sports star.

“;We have tremendous enthusiasm when it comes to supporting our favorite for 'American Idol' or our sports teams,”; Schatz said. “;It's time to channel some of that enthusiasm toward making sure our government is run well and is accountable.”;

State voter turnouts


A look at states with the lowest voter turnout in the 2008 election:

Hawaii: 51.8%

Utah: 53.1%

West Virginia: 53.4%

Arkansas: 53.8%

Tennessee: 55.5%


The states with the best voter turnout were:

Minnesota: 75%

Washington, D.C.: 74.1%

Maine: 71.2%

New Hampshire: 71.2%

Wisconsin: 71.2%

National average: 63.6%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau