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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 5, 2006

No excuses this election: Go and vote

By Mark Platte
Advertiser Editor

What's your excuse for not voting?

Don't want to stand in line on Tuesday? There are no lines.

Don't find yourself in town on Election Day? You could have voted absentee.

Don't like the candidates or issues? Skip the ones you don't like or know and vote for whom you do like and do know.

Don't have time? Most businesses will give you two hours during the workday to vote. Most city and state workers have the day off.

Don't have a ride? Political parties will provide one. Call the GOP at 593-8180 or the Democrats at 596-2980.

Don't know your polling place? Call the Office of Elections at 453-8683.

With six in 10 registered voters not bothering to show up at the polls during the September primary, which featured a marquee matchup between a sitting U.S. senator and congressman, it's painfully obvious that far too many are not engaged in the electoral process. The primary, by the way, was considered a success story compared with the primaries that preceded it since 1998, the last time the numbers were higher.

Check the accompanying graphic to see what kind of sad state we're in. The sheer number of people who are registering to vote is increasing. That's the good news. But when it comes time to actually going to the polls, the picture is bleak, especially in primary elections, hitting a dismal 39.7 percent two years ago. The general election has been better, fueled by cliffhanger presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 and intriguing gubernatorial matchups in 1998 and 2002.

But this year's general election in two days is bound to provide the perfect excuse for what will undoubtedly be a disappointing turnout. Voters will claim that the races aren't competitive and why bother with something that's already been decided. That's a specious argument. Even with two-thirds of registered voters turning out to vote in 2004, the one-third who didn't accounted for more than 200,000 unused votes. (It should be pointed out that the 647,000 who registered in 2004 was only two-thirds of those over 18 who were probably eligible to vote but did not register. But that's another story.)

I've heard all the arguments from those who say they don't vote. A 22-year-old Kalihi man told The Advertiser in August that so much money goes into campaigns that "the small guy isn't being represented. I think if it was really more community-based, more people would vote, and they would feel like their vote was making a difference."

Please. What is more community-based than a Hawai'i campaign where candidates line the streets before dawn to wave signs or knock on doors or run themselves ragged trying to make as many public forums as possible? You can't go far on any of our islands without bumping into a school board candidate or someone running for the state Legislature. Even candidates you would assume were going to mail it in this year and still win the election are out there stumping from morning to night.

In the same Advertiser story, a 20-year-old woman from Ha'iku, Maui, said, "All my teachers, and the commercials and stuff, they always say 'Every vote counts,' but I don't see one vote making a big difference." Really? Ask Kaua'i mayor Bryan Baptiste, who in September's primary got two more votes than necessary to avoid a runoff. Ask Quentin Kawananakoa, who lost to Bob Hogue for the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District by 194 votes. Ask President Bush or John Kerry or Al Gore.

There are hugely important issues to decide, and it's impossible to argue that there are not widely divergent views on the war in Iraq, the ways to teach our children and the future of Hawai'i, not to mention the makeup of Congress and the state Legislature. There are amendments to the city Charter and the state Constitution to be considered that will have a far-reaching impact on the way we are governed.

Why argue about the way things ought to be when you can take the more effective step of backing up your opinion with your vote?

In predicting a low turnout, I may be contributing to the perception that this election is one to ignore. Not at all. I'm just hoping to be proven wrong.

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