Where have all the voters gone?
By Helen Gibson Ahn
It's that time again. Our primary election is coming up on Sept. 23, and the general election on Nov. 7. Every election, there are thousands of folks who exercise their civic duty and vote for the candidate of their choice.
But what about those who don't vote? Why is it that Hawai'i continues to have such low voter turnout, and so few citizens actually register?
We hear all the time about the importance of voting. From grade school on we learn that it is our right and privilege as Americans living in a democratic society. Being able to vote for the candidate of our choice is a right many people in the world do not have, and we need to use this right at every opportunity.
Let's bring it closer to home. There are numerous problems affecting our quality of life here in Hawai'i, and each of us is affected to some degree.
How to bring about change? Well, there are a number of things that can be done. We can be hands-on and do what we can as individuals to fix things. Tired of all the litter along the roadways? Work to adopt a highway, or just clean a certain stretch now and then. This can result in immediate changes to help to reduce the problem.
When we elect people who state a commitment to positions that can make a difference, we help to ensure long-term changes. The odds are that your causes are also the causes of thousands of other people. An incredible power block is created when those with similar visions work together and, in this case, vote. Equally important, if someone does not live up to the promises they made, then it is also our responsibility to vote them out of that position.
Our system makes it incredibly easy to vote for the candidate of your choice. If you can't make it to the polls, or if you just find it easier, you can vote absentee. Everything can be done by mail. In fact, the number of voters who vote absentee is growing every year as voters realize just how easy it is. How to find out who the candidates are and where they stand on the issues? Just read the daily newspaper, or go online; All of this information can be accessed easily to make an informed decision.
So why is it that so many people don't vote? Some say it's too much of a hassle, or they don't know the candidates and what they stand for. Others ask "why bother?" because the people they vote for never seem to win. Or maybe they are like the guy who never registered to vote because he was under the impression it would automatically enter him into being summoned for jury duty. Well, he got called up anyway, so let's hope he'll register and exercise his right to vote from now on.
Why is it so important to vote? We need to vote to let those who make the decisions know what is important to us, and that we will hold them accountable. We are facing a number of major environmental, cultural and political challenges now, and decisions must be made as to how to best address them. We all have our opinions as to the best way to do this, and it is our right — and our responsibility — to voice that opinion through our vote.
Many of these issues and challenges will affect not only our lives, but the lives of our children and their children. Shame on us if we don't do everything we can to ensure we set them up with a quality of life equal to or better than what we have now. Voting gives us that opportunity.
We are all very fortunate to live under a democratic system of government that ensures each of us — no matter where we are — can vote. We need to demonstrate our concern for what is happening and get involved by exercising that right. You can be reactive to an issue or be proactive and vote to make a difference.
Do it for your beliefs. Do it for your community. Do it for your kids and their future. But just do it. And shame on you if you don't.
VIEWS ON VOTING
Why should Hawai'i residents make the time to vote this election year? Here are some thoughts on getting out the vote from residents islandwide.
It is often helpful to me in assessing the consequences of something I might, or might not, do to ask: "What if everyone did this?"
If no one voted, we'd have no democracy.
If we don't vote, we shouldn't complain about what elected officials commit to. After all, "we" didn't elect them.
I care, so I vote!
Gerrit Osborne, Wai'alae Iki
Right now we have thousands of military troops in Iraq fighting (and some dying) for democracy, so the Iraqi people will have the right to choose their government and leaders. Americans have fought their own wars so we can have the freedoms we enjoy today, yet so often take for granted, one of those being the freedom to vote.
Yes, educating ourselves about the issues, the leaders and going to the polls is inconvenient and time consuming.
Yes, listening to all the bickering between the Democrats and Republicans is nauseating.
Yes, some of us are just too busy working two to three jobs and raising our kids.
Take just one hour out of your day and practice your freedom to vote — choosing leaders who will best represent you. Remember, if you choose not to vote, then you have no place to complain.
Leslie Kahihikolo, Kailua
Hawai'i residents should take the time and make an effort to vote this election season.
How about voting for this reason: In honor of the men who believed in democracy and freedom, who in yesteryears made a difference in our lives both then and now; for those men of honor whose resting place is the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Johnnie-Mae L. Perry, Wai'anae
We Hawaiians have a long tradition of grumbling to get things done rather than doing what's easier, for example, voting for those who share our views. Admittedly, we have among the highest number of those in trouble with the law, incarcerated, dependents of the state, student failure and dropouts. We need to be more akamai and learn how those seeking office plan to address these problems and go out and vote.
Bill Punini Prescott, Nanakuli
Voter apathy is nothing new in Hawai'i. Most voters now believe that their vote does not change any policies or impact any changes. The state Legislature is mostly Democratic and even within that party there are dissensions. I believe the Board of Education is most important to our voters and their families. We need to get the word out that this is a crucial year for Hawai'i because of the global crises and how that will affect our tourism industry and our economy.
Meheroo Jussawalla, Kahala
Hawai'i citizens just simply do not see a correlation between going into the voting booth and seeing changes in their lives. Regardless of one's party loyalties, none of us can argue that one party dominates this state. Most real elections are determined at the primary stage, and election night is for the celebration and photo ops.
I think the more important concern is how to convince people to invest the time to educate themselves about issues/candidates. The actual voting aspect follows as an outgrowth of an educated, or at least passionate, electorate.
Jeff Merz, Waikiki
If you do not vote, clearly you do not have respect for the men and women who gave their lives defending our liberties and I am not interested in your opinion on who should be president or governor. Go live in Iran.
How we get people to vote is the more vital question. If voting was a product to sell, we would go out of business. We need to make it easier to register and vote.
Anytime someone files a tax return or submits address information to the state or county, then that should include an automatic voter registration feature. Every student should get their diploma only after they've registered to vote. If Wall Street is willing and able to let me vote my stock rights online, then we should be able to vote for candidates online.
Send everyone a ballot online or in the mail and make voter fraud punishable by something like $1 million and 20 years in jail. If the government simply offered a $100 tax credit to every person who votes, do you think we would have success?
Craig Y. Watase, Niu Valley
Helen Gibson Ahn, a former Advertiser Community Editorial Board member, is a Honolulu resident and a civilian employee of the Department of Defense. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.