The Lack Of Citizen Participation

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - November 15, 2006

The low voter turnout in our recent election is disturbing.

Actually, it is embarrassing. Other words that come to mind: Anemic. Deplorable. Inexcusable.

Reports show only 36 percent of our total population and 53 percent of registered voters actually cast a ballot.

One more word: Pathetic.

Pundits explain this paltry performance due to a lack of exciting races and hot-button issues. Puh-leeze. Is this the criteria for Americans to exercise their civic duty and responsibility? So I suppose this means if there is a lack of a sexy candidate or a deeply controversial issue, then voting becomes irrelevant.

Let me cut to the proverbial chase. This dismal turnout is a reflection of our collective character. We, as a community, are so disinterested in and so cynical of politics we would rather opt out than work to effect necessary and positive changes.

Let me put it to you this way. Are you satisfied with road conditions? Do you think you are paying a fair price for a gallon of gas? Are your children receiving the absolute best public education? Do you smoke? Do you encounter homelessness in your neighborhood? Is your family touched in some way by the ravages of crystal meth? Do you realize these issues are directly affected by politics? Why would caring and thoughtful people abdicate their voice and have a small number of people make decisions about impactful policies?

Perhaps, this is the real question that demands an honest answer. Are we a caring and thoughtful community? We espouse proprietary ownership of the “Aloha Spirit,” but where is this manifested in our political process?

Our system of government, a representative democracy, demands citizen participation for it to succeed. It may not be perfect, but I believe it is the best political model in the world. We do not suffer under a dictator-ial/totalitarian regime, we are not subjected to a monarchy and we are not governed by a political committee. We are represented by our own neighbors who are accountable to us every two and four years. We have instruments available to us to remove officials who conduct themselves in a criminal or egregious manner. We are free to congregate and protest. We can have a direct hand in the composition of our society. This is what a representative democracy can provide.

But the key to its success is participation. If we allow our voting numbers to dwindle, our government will devolve into exactly what our loved ones fought and died to prevent. The concentration of absolute power into the hands of a few executing a pseudo-communistic/socialistic agenda should be our greatest fear.

Until the day comes when Hawaii voters will actually become educated and motivated to get to the polls, we may have some interesting conversations, but nothing of positive substance will transpire. The perpetual issues of education, transportation, taxation and entitlements will still be “something we are working on” and as more people fail to vote, these (and other issues) will continue to languish without resolution.

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