Why Most Islanders Don’t Vote

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - May 21, 2008

Voter turnout in Hawaii is abysmal. We were dead last in the nation in the 2004 presidential election. The state with the greatest percentage of voter turnout was Minnesota at 76.7 percent. The national average was 61.34 percent. There were only two states with less than 50 percent participation. Hawaii was one and California was the other.

Why? I can’t speak for California (although at one point I could speak “Valley” - “Fer sure, duuude.”), but for us here at home there are several-reasons for our voter apathy.

* The actions of our elected officials can erode our confidence in the system. When lawmakers are caught driving drunk, arrested for lewd acts in a public place, charged with sexual violations or busted for fiscal impropriety, it leads to cynicism and indifference.

We hold our politicians to a higher standard. It is commensurate with their responsibilities and, lest we forget, they came to us to support them. It is reasonable to expect they will conduct themselves in a way that is representative of the community ideal.

* The brutal partisanship and political maneuvering in the Legislature and, for that matter, in the Honolulu City Council is dispiriting to the electorate, at least to those who pay attention. When Sen. Norman Sakamoto, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, stated among his reasons for opposing the confirmation of Kitty Lagareta to the UH Board of Regents was that she was ultimately responsible for a lack of soap in the men’s showers, political sniping and contrivance took center stage. The public is not interested in “gotcha” politics. Those themes may play well in The Gridiron, but stink on the nightly news.

* People are sick and tired of being used as the personal ATMs for politicians. It was just a few years ago that we were debating the use of hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus revenue for the state. Hundreds could have been returned to individuals and families, if the political priority and will existed. Alas, that dream disappeared along with my dream of fitting into size 30 Levi’s. Our constitution requires a rebate to the taxpayers after two consecutive years of surplus revenue.

This 2008 Legislature took the bold move in returning $1. Yep, a buck. It would be somewhat funny if it weren’t so insulting.

* This past legislative session found the Democrat majority supporting the denial of the most basic, fundamental right of a free society. The “Card Check” bill, passed by the Legislature and vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle, trounced the right of individual privacy when casting a union vote via secret ballot. If passed, this antithetical law would have forced the ballots and votes pertaining to unionization be revealed to those trying to organize, of all things, a union! The Statue of Liberty breathed a sigh of relief when the governor vetoed this offensive piece of ... legislation.

* The atrophied interest in voting can be found in the level of acceptance and respect the public has in our body politic. MidWeek‘s sister publication, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, asked the following poll question: “What grade would you give to this year’s state Legislature?”

And 83.4 percent of those responded said the Legislature deserved a D or an F. That translates to about a 15 percent approval rating.

The dismal assessment is a statement itself. When less than two of 10 people think you are doing a decent job, you really must be smelling up the room.

* The core of the matter is founded in sheer disempowerment. Most people interested in change do not believe things can change. The Democrat majority, which has had vise-like control over our state for generations (some would say vice-like), is an immovable object. Yes, Gov. Lingle was elected in 2002 and 2006. But GOP representation has dwindled to next to nothing in the Senate and is shrinking in the House.

The irony is the very same disinterested, cynical and inactive segment of the electorate is the key to bringing two-party representation to our process.

Until the proverbial sleeping giant answers the call and gets into the game, we are destined for more of the same.

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