Attack ads, GOP effort were factors in turnout, experts say
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer
Election observers said the partisan attack ads in prominent races may have turned off some voters, but they also said an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort by Republicans helped prop up GOP numbers while Democratic support fell.
The dirty side of the governor campaign attacks on the character and competence of the opposition may have helped depress voter turnout. It does so elsewhere, said Doug Lewis, director of the Election Center, a Mainland nonprofit educational organization that supports elections officials across the country.
"A dirty campaign works, but it also does have a tendency to slow voters down," Lewis said.
Honolulu political consultant Dog Clegg said he believes some of the negative television spots were over the top and may have ended up hurting the candidate they supported.
"Yes, negative advertising beats the hell out of positive advertising. But with positive advertising, you can't go over the edge. With negative advertising, you can," Clegg said. "There was just so much of it. I've got to believe it had an impact."
The polls saw 111,000 more voters in the general than the primary, a 40 percent increase.
Tuesday's 385,462 votes was the second-highest Hawai'i vote count on record. The battle between Linda Lingle and Mazie Hirono paled next to the 1998 race between Lingle and Gov. Ben Cayetano, when a record 412,520 voters cast ballots.
In one of the odd statistics of Election 2002, Lingle won with a smaller vote total than she had when she lost in 1998. The Republican governor-elect had 198,952 votes against Ben Cayetano's 204,206 four years ago. She won this year with 197,009 against Hirono's 179,647.
The flagging support for the Democratic governor candidate accounted for nearly all the overall vote shortfall from 1998 to 2002. The election of 2002 had 27,058 fewer voters than 1998, and Hirono had 24,559 fewer votes than the Democratic standard bearer in 1998 did.
It is difficult to determine whether one candidate was hurt more than another by negative voting, but for some voters, it clearly dirtied the election process.
"Some people were turned off by the negative campaigning," said Mufi Hannemann, the former city councilman who this election has led an aggressive campaign to improve voter turnout.
"I heard a number of people saying they were so disgusted they didn't vote," Hannemann said.
If anything, a negative ad campaign should anger people into voting, not into walking way, said Clegg. "That's the dumbest reason in the world not to vote," he said.
Candidates across the state said at least some of the Republican success winning the governorship and both mayoral races on the ballot came from an unprecedented Republican Election-Day effort. The party staffed nearly all precincts with poll watchers, and checked poll books which is perfectly legal to identify likely GOP voters who hadn't shown up yet. Those voters would get a reminder, and an offer to drive them to the polls.
"A lot of people are wondering, what are their functions? Part of their function is to get the vote out," said Rex Quidilla, administrative assistant to state elections chief Dwayne Yoshina.
Losing Kaua'i mayoral candidate Ron Kouchi said the Republican polling place effort had coattails. GOP volunteers would remind voters to support the party's gubernatorial candidate and would also mention the local candidates. It benefitted Lingle and also helped get Republican mayoral candidates elected on Kaua'i and Maui, he said.
On Maui, Lingle and mayor-elect Alan Arakawa had nearly identical vote totals. On Kaua'i, normally a strongly Democratic island, the linkup may not have worked quite as well. It was the only island in which Hirono beat Lingle, and mayor-elect Bryan Baptiste considerably outpolled fellow Republican Lingle. But Baptiste said he credits the party's strong Election Day push for his win.
Clegg said he does not buy the coattail theory. If Lingle's effort had coattails, her success would have played out in the Legislature, too, and it didn't, he said.
Hannemann said the most hopeful voter turnout statistics this year may be the absentee and walk-in voting numbers. Statewide, 16 percent of the voters either voted by mail or walked in to polling places open before Election Day.
The sites were so popular than in the last hours of walk-in voting, some voters complained about long lines, he said. Hannemann said he will recommend the state's elections officials expand voting opportunities before Election Day. On O'ahu, he suggested a walk-in voting site be situated at Kapolei.
"I think that's an area that will have increasing popularity in the future. The numbers are just unbelievable. From 2000 to 2002, there was an increase of 48 percent in absentee early walk in and mail ballots," Hannemann said. "People, once they found out about it, they were excited about it."
On Maui, numbers were even more impressive, said state elections official Quidilla.
"Maui saw a 100 percent increase in absentee mail from the primary to the general," he said.