Why We Don’t Vote

In 2004, I ran as a Republican for the office of state representative for District 33, essentially Aiea, Halawa and part of Waimalu.

Running for elective office isn’t exactly a lot of fun – unless you win, I’ve heard.

It can be costly, physically exhausting, intellectually challenging and tough on relationships (especially if your spouse is your campaign manager – and a great one she was).

I’m not sure I would have made the effort, except for the encouragement of then-Gov. Linda Lingle. I believed strongly in her proposal to decentralize Hawaii’s educational system, and it was clear she would need help in the state Legislature to make it happen.

I lost the election to Democrat incumbent Blake Oshiro by 85 votes out of 8,520. The absentee ballot count gave him the win. It was because – in great part – of his initiative and legislative leadership that same-sex marriage became law in this state.

And you think elections don’t make much difference in Hawaii!

The aforementioned negatives of running for office notwithstanding, I especially enjoyed three specific aspects of campaigning: making new friends with similarly committed campaign supporters, walking my district and meeting my neighbors, and – believe it or not – sign-waving with my dogs.

In any case, here we go again, with midterm elections coming up rapidly this November. If Hawaii’s dismal voter turnout performance repeats previous elections (2008: worst turnout in the USA; 2012: second-worst after West Virginia), we’re in for further embarrassment.

Recently, in an effort to determine the cause of such abject voter apathy, John Sutter of CNN actually came to Hawaii to study this phenomenon. Here are the most common reasons he determined for Hawaii’s voter indifference:

* Surfer mentality: Too laid-back to care. A state representative on Maui told Sutter, “If the swell is up, there’s gonna be low voter turnout.”

* Ugly Hawaiian history: Many Native Hawaiians refuse to vote in federal or state elections because they perceive it would dilute their Hawaiian-ness.

* Six-hour time difference: Presidential elections already are decided by the time Hawaii voters get to the polls. Geographical isolation promotes feelings of detachment from Mainland elections.

* Four decades of Democratic Party dominance: Sen. Sam Slom is the only Republican in our state Senate, and many open electoral seats have no Republican candidate, so “What’s the use?”

* Polling places can’t be trusted: Some open late because of ballots not yet delivered. Others just run out of ballots. One poll worker said he handed out Japanese-language ballots to everyone just to keep the line moving.

* Many Hawaii citizens just don’t see themselves as people who participate in civil/political society: “Nobody asked me to vote!”

* Poor school system: Schools do a poor job of teaching pupils how election outcomes actually affect their day-to-day lives.

* “Too hard to register to vote”: this feedback, despite many available tools to register (more than enough, according to Slom). The latest tool as of this writing: A brand-new law allowing same-day registration at the polls. Minnesota’s similar new progressive laws resulted in 78 percent participation.

From CNN’s website GO VOTE: “To those who do not vote we should send a free ticket to Arlington National Cemetery to see how many have died for your right to vote.”

But for Hawaii’s non-voters, just drive on up to Punchbowl and take a look. That should have the same effect.