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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

Hawai'i elections: why our turnout is terrible

You may have missed the short story in yesterday's paper reporting Hawai'i's ranking among the states in voter turnout in the last general election:

Dead last.

Hawai'i has the lowest percentage of eligible voters registered, about half. And only 44.1 percent of those registered showed up at the polls in November 2000. Compare that to 70 percent in the top four states.

Why are Hawai'i voters so apathetic? There are several different but related reasons:

• Resignation. Too many voters think their vote doesn't matter, that the same people win no matter what, and no matter who wins, things don't change. This kind of thinking, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

• Demographics. There's a "hollowing out" of Hawai'i's population, with folks in their 20s to 40s, the ones with a real burning interest in good education, decent communities and good jobs, moving to the Mainland in disproportionate numbers. A higher proportion of those too young to care and older folks who are settled and satisfied with the status quo remain.

• Political turn-off. Voters are distressed — and rightly so — by negative campaigning, partisan politics and the minority who abuse campaign finances, public funds and the public trust.

• Tuning out. A general decline in interest in public affairs, reflected nationally in declining newspaper circulation, a "dumbing down" of TV news and a general "tuning out" of the major issues of our day — even those that directly affect nonvoters, like reduced Social Security benefits, rising healthcare costs and the like.

The decline in voter interest in Hawai'i — from tops in the nation at statehood to dead last in 2000 — shows a tragic loss of faith in the political process that is clearly reflected in our declining schools and university, our neglect of prisons, mental health and drug treatment, and much more.

If you're not satisfied with government in Hawai'i, ask yourself what you've done to improve things. It's not somebody else's job. And your part starts with participation — voting.