The Mysteries Of Voter Turnout

Larry Price
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Wednesday - November 10, 2010
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One of the most-researched topics in the political industry is voter turnout.

The questions are tantalizing. Why do people register to vote, but then don’t vote? Who are these people? Are they young, middle-aged or old?

It all depends - whether the voter is in the East, West, North or South, is male or female, and if the voter is a Democrat, Republican, independent or other.

Even the arithmetic does-n’t always make sense.

Hawaii has a population of about 1.2 million, of whom about 690,000 are registered voters. On midterm election day 2010, 385,000 of them showed up to vote. That’s roughly a turnout of 55 percent. Believe it or not, that is a very good turnout, anywhere, anytime.

This election proved that Hawaii doesn’t fit the national norm for projecting outcomes using voter turnout as a positive indication. From the looks of the results, the citizens of voting age across the U.S. were, with the exception of four or five states, upset with the incumbents and voted them out of office. It was a remarkable gain for the Republican Party - but not in Hawaii.

For some reason, and I don’t think anyone is really sure why, Hawaii voters have a different mentality when they enter the voting booth.

They don’t seem to enjoy voting, because we have such a large absentee voting population. They simply vote early. That creates a lot of concern that once they do that, the voter can’t change their vote if they change their mind a week before the election. Also, this creates a real challenge for those who figure out a candidate’s campaign strategy.

In this election, TV and radio were saturated with campaign advertising. It was interesting to note that the ability to buy time on a television station became a real marketable art form. If you don’t believe that, figure out why U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and Sen. Dan Inouye were able to get so many slots in prime time when they were virtually uncontested. It’s because they have money, and also know-how.

Another mystery surfaced, if you look between the lines and lines of numbers and statistics. There were more blank votes in certain contests than ever before. In the race for the 1st Congressional District between Colleen Hanabusa and Charles Djou, with the differences between them as clear as can be, there were about 13,000 blank votes. The margin of victory was about 11,000.

What’s with that? In this race, non-votes counted as much as votes.

You could argue that the blank votes cast in the Board of Education race were way past the usual 3 percent margin because so many of the candidates were unknown to the voting public.

OK, but in a congressional race with only two candidates, both of whom saturated the airwaves with ads, what does a blank vote suggest?

It’s already a difficult task to educate voters that, on amendments for state propositions, a blank vote is a “no” vote, but on City Charter amendments a “no” vote means just plain no. But during the next election, the experts are going to have to come up with a campaign strategy to influence the voters to not leave their ballots with blank votes, even if it’s their prerogative to do so.

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