It’s not just about who you vote for…it’s about participating in the process
In August, Maui County held a primary election. If you’re among the 75.2 percent of eligible voters who didn’t turn in a ballot, maybe you forgot. Maybe you didn’t care. Maybe you didn’t know there was an election.
Whatever the reason, Maui’s 34.8 percent voter turnout was the lowest in the state—and the rest of the state didn’t exactly turn out in droves. Hawai‘i Island (41 percent), Oahu (40.4 percent), and Kaua‘i (38.5 percent) all fell far below the 50 percent threshold.
It’s easy to be cynical about politics, particularly right now. Many people see where things stand on the local and, especially, national level and throw up their hands. “They’re all crazy! No one knows what they’re doing!”
Certain media outlets and talking heads fan these flames with sensationalism and us-versus-them rhetoric. “If it bleeds, it leads” is an old journalistic cliche. Let’s add, when it comes to politicians, “If it yells, it sells.”
The prevalence of relentless attack ads, social-media mudslinging, and outright falsehoods further poison the well. Divisiveness is everywhere. Disengagement is a tempting reprieve.
Language is another barrier to election participation. According to the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, more than one-quarter of Hawai‘i households speak a language other than English. This year, the state legislature passed a law requiring mailed ballots to include instructions on accessing translation services. Ballots will need to list the instructions in the five most common languages in the state, other than English: Tagalog, Ilocano, Japanese, Spanish, and Hawaiian. But it won’t take effect until 2024.
We also must acknowledge Hawai‘i’s complicated, fraught history with the United States government. Multiple U.S. presidents dating back to Grover Cleveland in the late-19th century have stated that the Hawaiian Kingdom was illegally overthrown and the islands illegally annexed. In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed an official apology.
This Western system of governance was thrust upon Hawai’i. It’s understandable—for Native Hawaiians, especially—to look askance at the voting process.
But voter turnout was actually much higher immediately after Hawai‘i became a U.S. state in 1959. In that year’s primary election, 84 percent of voters turned out. At the time, a black-and-white “News of the Day” reel by Peter Roberts declared Hawai‘i to be “a new voice in American politics.”
To say local enthusiasm for the ballot box has waned in the intervening six decades is an understatement.
Here’s the thing, though: Government only works when we make it work. It only functions properly with our active participation. Refusing to participate simply means you don’t have a say.
This is especially true at the county and state level, where decisions are made that directly impact our lives. National politics often feel like far-away theater. But local politics? That’s where the rubber meets the road.
It isn’t about which side you’re on, what party you belong to, or which candidates you support. It’s about being an engaged citizen and making informed choices. It’s about caring enough to be part of this messy, necessary process.
Often, a few hundred (or even fewer) votes for a local candidate or charter amendment can tip the balance. Anyone who’s ever said their vote doesn’t matter should consider that.
If all of this has felt like so much scolding, we don’t mean it that way. The point of a democracy, ideally, is that you get to choose. That includes choosing who and what to vote for, or whether to vote at all.
But we hope that when you make your choice, you don’t make it from a place of apathy or disillusionment. We hope you’ll consider your civic duty and act upon it.
We strongly encourage you to cast your vote and let your voice be heard.