Election official Glen Hamada organized the voting area yesterday for absentee voters at City Hall.

Election field too
crowded to predict

Candidates say voter turnout will be
crucial to congressional race

By Craig Gima

With a large field of candidates and only a small percentage of voters expected to cast ballots, no one feels confident predicting victory in tomorrow's special election for Congress.

Turnout or lack of turnout will determine who among the 44 people running for the U.S. House of Representatives seat will represent the 2nd Congressional District of Leeward, Windward and North Shore Oahu and the neighbor islands.

"Turnout is very important, who is going to go out and vote, who is going to come out of winter hibernation and propel themselves to the polls," said Barbara Marumoto, one of 16 Republicans on the ballot.

Matt Matsunaga, who is among 12 Democrats running for the office, echoed Marumoto's concerns. "You're just not certain what people are going to do three days after the New Year," he said. "Whoever gets their people out to vote will win this election."

The 44 candidates are competing to fill the next term of the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, who died of viral pneumonia on Sept. 28 but won re-election posthumously on Nov. 5. Ed Case now represents the 2nd Congressional District after winning a Nov. 30 special election to fill the remaining weeks of Mink's current term.

For tomorrow's election, the number of people requesting absentee mail-in ballots or who voted in walk-up absentee voting is up significantly from the Nov. 30 election, when just 12,177 people statewide voted absentee.

As of yesterday, the last day of early walk-up voting, more than 7,700 people cast walk-up absentee votes statewide compared with about 4,850 people on Nov. 30. About 17,755 mail-in absentee ballots were requested statewide, and nearly 14,000 have been received so far.

The increase in absentee voting is expected to benefit Democratic candidates. The party, labor unions and individual candidates mounted a strong absentee-voting effort to make sure their voters turn out.

Democrats have three strong candidates in the race: Case; state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, who is one of the few candidates who actually lives in the district; and former state Sen. Matt Matsunaga, son of former U.S. Rep. and Sen. Spark Matsunaga.

With Democrats splitting the vote, Republican candidates are hoping to slip in.

But the GOP field is also crowded. Former state Rep. Bob McDermott, who lost in the general election, and state Rep. Barbara Marumoto are among the top Republican candidates. Also running are Rep. Chris Halford from Maui, former state Rep. Jim Rath from West Hawaii, former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi, congressional staffer Kimo Kaloi and former state Rep. and gubernatorial candidate John Carroll.

"They (Republicans) did a very good job at dividing up whatever vote they did have," said Andy Winer, director of the Democrats Coordinated Campaign.

The Republican Party admits it has not put as much effort into the congressional race as Democrats.

"This special election has just fallen on a real bad time," said acting Hawaii GOP Chairman Brennon Morioka.

With Gov. Linda Lingle's victory, Republicans, including former GOP state Chairman Micah Kane, have been busy putting together a new administration and replacing party officials and workers who now work for Lingle.

The GOP has spent most of its effort making sure it has enough workers to staff the polls, a new responsibility that falls to the party that controls the governor's office.

"And then there's the holidays," Morioka said.

With so many people running, neither party is endorsing any candidates.

Turnout on the Nov. 30 special election was just 13.3 percent of the 347,922 registered voters in the 2nd Congressional District. Most observers agree turnout will be higher tomorrow, if only because this election is for the full term in Congress.

How much higher is an open question.

"Any time it's a special election, it (turnout) is not so great," said Honolulu City Clerk Genny Wong. Wong said the election coming right after the New Year will probably hurt turnout.

Big Island County Clerk Al Konishi is more optimistic.

He said interest is growing in the race, and turnout will exceed the 27.5 percent turnout for last year's special election on Oahu when Ann Kobayashi won the seat of former City Councilman Andy Mirikitani.

"You would think a congressional seat would draw a bigger crowd," Konishi said. "We'll see where we fall."

State Office of Elections

E-mail to City Desk


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