Sunday, September 2, 2001

Hawaii voters shy
away from the polls

The issue: A national report shows
that fewer than half cast ballots
in the last election.

WHAT A PARADOX that so many citizens in a free country exercise their freedom by not voting. The right to elect the leaders of our nation, states and cities should be valued. Yet fewer than half of eligible voters in Hawaii cast ballots in the 2000 election, a shameful showing of civic responsibility.

The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, a nonpartisan research group, reports that only 40.5 percent of voting age people in Hawaii went to the polls last year. Dwayne Yoshina, the state's chief election officer, disputes the report's numbers, which he says are skewed by military personnel and other ineligible residents. He puts turnout at 48.5 percent. Whichever, neither figure places the voters of Hawaii in a good light.

Yoshina contends that the state has tried to make registering to vote as effortless as possible. Forms are available at numerous locations and on the Internet and in the phone book. The state offers drive-through registration as election day draws near. He estimates that 74 percent of Hawaii's 765,452 eligible voters are registered.

Yoshina suggests that election officials can only do so much, that other efforts should be made in the schools, by political parties and by candidates. Indeed, the committee's study along with another by Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism say the reasons for decreasing voter participation go beyond registration problems. "Procedural barriers are real, but less important to the nonvoting phenomenon than perceptions about political leaders," say Northwestern professors Ellen Shearer and Jack Doppelt. "Nonvoters don't believe in their political efficacy and, for many, the events in Florida reinforced their belief that their votes don't count."

Jean Aoki of the League of Women Voters agrees that many people have cynical views of politicians. She suggests that candidates are partly responsible when they conduct campaigns that point out their opponents' faults rather than stressing their own strengths. "Staying away from mudslinging and really communicating with voters about their plans and proposals can excite people to vote," Aoki says.

Pinpointing the reasons people stay away from the polls is difficult, she says. Some say it is bothersome and time consuming and in the end, doesn't make a difference. They are wrong and should not see voting as a burden. Citizens who don't vote can be assured their voices won't be heard.

Travel agents battle
airlines for business

The issue: Travel agents stopped work
to protest airlines' reduction
in their commissions.

TRAVEL AGENTS are in a fight for their careers against the very companies that, until now, they have relied upon for their share of travel revenues -- the airlines. The latest cut in commissions to travel agents for selling tickets propelled them to a nationwide two-hour work stoppage last week. However, the demonstration is not likely to deter airlines from going to the Internet to offer direct fares to customers at cheaper prices, cutting out the middleman. Travel agents will need urgently to prove their usefulness to maintain their standing.

The Internet is not about to force many travel agencies out of business any time soon. Nearly 30,000 travel agencies still sell about 80 percent of all airline tickets, but their profits are dwindling. The sixth reduction in fees paid to travel agencies since 1985 brought the airlines' maximum payment on a round-trip ticket within the United States to $20 from $50. Below those caps, agents are paid a 5 percent commission on ticket sales.

Travel agencies have been put in the position of charging fees, on top of airplane ticket prices, in hopes that their expertise will still provide cheaper fares for customers. The strategy may work in persuading passengers that agents are working for them and not for airlines, but only if customers find it worthwhile to avoid time-consuming online searches.

Airlines are offering cheap tickets on the Internet and cutting agency commissions, along with transaction fees to the computer reservation systems used by travel agents, in an effort to offset high fuel prices and the cost of new labor contracts. Airlines now offer discounts and bonus frequent-flier miles to online customers.

"The airlines want everyone on the Internet so they can control the information so that they can charge higher prices," says Richard M. Copland, president of the 16,000-member American Society of Travel Agents. However, Copland concedes that such a dire consequence is not imminent. "Travel Agencies are doing well. The traveling public trusts travel agents. They don't trust airlines."

That trust has not necessarily been justified by travel agents' success at finding low fares. A study by the Consumer Reports Travel Letter found that agents provided the lowest fare on researchers' first calls only 51 percent of the time. Even after researchers made subsequent calls, asking agents to make sure they had found the lowest fare, 12 percent of 840 agents in 12 cities never came up with the cheapest fare available. Travel agents will have to try much harder to remain competitive.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin (USPS 249460) is published daily by
Oahu Publications at 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-500, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813.
Periodicals postage paid at Honolulu, Hawaii. Postmaster: Send address changes to
Star-Bulletin, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

E-mail to Editorial Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin