Tight electionHawaii may lose its dubious title as having the worst voter turnout in the nation after elections tomorrow, with two women in a virtual tie for governor and every seat in the Legislature up for grabs.
may boost turnout
Yardsticks vary, but
Hawaii voters typically
show most enthusiasm
for the governor's race
Candidates trade final jabs
Business-labor rift in endorsements
By Jaymes Song
Voter turnout is expected to easily surpass the 2000 presidential election, when only about 40 percent of isle residents of voting age cast ballots.
Hawaii is the only state in the nation where voter turnout drops during presidential election years and increases in off years, according to Federal Election Commission figures.
One reason is that Hawaii has never had an impact in a presidential election -- all of which either were decided before the islands' votes were counted with the five-hour time difference from the East Coast, or the outcome depended on states with far more electoral votes. Elections for governor are held during nonpresidential election years.
"We usually know the outcome of the presidential election in the middle of the afternoon," Hawaii political analyst and MidWeek columnist Dan Boylan said. "We are primarily interested in the governorship. We always have been."
Still, there is some disagreement on just how low Hawaii voter turnout has been.
If the voting-age population -- everyone 18 years or older -- is used in calculating voter turnout, Hawaii was the lowest in 2000, with 40.5 percent, according to the FEC. The national average was 51.3 percent.
Other agencies have slightly different figures, but the U.S. Census Bureau (44.9 percent) and the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate (40.5 percent) also rated Hawaii as the lowest.
The state, however, prefers a different measuring stick, comparing votes cast with the number of registered voters. By that standard the state reported a turnout of 58.2 percent in 2000.
"While there's clearly a downward trend, our numbers are not nearly as bad as these agencies claim them to be," said Rex Quidilla, a spokesman for the state Office of Elections. "I would say we're more in the middle of the pack, but there's really no doubt that turnout was not stellar that year."
According to the FEC, however, Hawaii is still near the bottom. By FEC numbers, the state had a registered-voter turnout of 57.7 percent in 2000, which put it above only four others: Indiana (54.5), Oklahoma (55.3), North Carolina (56.9) and the District of Columbia (57.0).
While Hawaii had a poor turnout in the presidential election year of 2000, the turnout in the 1998 off-year election was among the highest in the nation. Republican Linda Lingle lost by only 5,254 votes -- 1 percent of the vote -- to incumbent Democrat Ben Cayetano that year in the governor's race.
Hawaii had 45.3 percent of its voting-age residents casting ballots in 1998, which was the eighth highest in the nation. The national average was 36.4 percent with Minnesota the highest (60) and Tennessee the lowest (23.7), according to the FEC.
Lingle is running again this year, against Democratic Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, hoping to become the first GOP governor elected since 1962, shortly after statehood in 1959. The two women are tied in the polls. And reapportionment based on the 2000 census has put every legislative seat on the block.
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