'Olelo to help educate voters
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
Just days after the Legislature slashed the voter education budget for the state Office of Elections, the 'Olelo community access television station has stepped in with a series of programs designed to educate voters and improve a state voter turnout that ranked last in the nation in 2000.
Lurline McGregor, president and chief executive officer of 'Olelo cable television, yesterday announced the "Vote! 2002" program in conjunction with the Office of Elections.
"This year will be the biggest election year in the history of Hawai'i," she said. With 127 seats up for election, "next year we will have a new governor, a new mayor in each county, except Hawai'i County, all new city council members on each island."
McGregor said the staff of 'Olelo felt that "we should step up to the challenge to do what we can to increase voter turnout" with seven initiatives, six of them new programs.
State chief elections officer Dwayne Yoshina said the 'Olelo offer left him feeling "like a kid in a candy store. ... We don't have the money in our budget for this kind of educational effort."
McGregor said the effort will include inviting voter groups to participate in moderated televised discussions of issues, a series of daily candidate debates with live telephone call-ins, television coverage of different community events to help gauge public concerns, voter education presentations at Honolulu Rotary Clubs, and public service announcements with local celebrities promoting voting.
Yoshina's office had sought $200,000 for a modest voter education effort to pitch basic voting information to the public. Gov. Ben Cayetano's administration halved that, the state House cut it again and lawmakers further trimmed it to $25,000.
Yoshina said the office is especially concerned that this year will be confusing for voters because of the new district boundaries and changes in polling places as a result of reapportionment.
The office will be sending registered voters a yellow postcard in late June that shows their polling places and the various offices they will be voting for.
State officials said the office plans to update the elections Web site at www.state.hi.us/elections/ so voters will be able to type in their address to look up where they will be voting. Polling places are still being determined.
People who have questions about the process can call the elections office at (800)442-VOTE (8683).
A recent U.S. Census report found that Hawai'i had the lowest voter turnout in the nation in 1998, 44.1 percent. Yoshina said that he believes that would increase once the state removes the names of about 100,000 voters whom are thought to have moved out of state.
He said the state's percentage also is worsened by a sizable chunk of the adult population being nonresidents (some in the military) and noncitizens who have come from other countries. If those skewing factors were removed from the total, Yoshina said, "I think we would be in the middle of the pack."