Where have all the voters gone?

LIHU’E – With the exception of 1994, fewer Kauaians went to the polls during

elections in the 1990s.

And there are no signs the trend will end this

year.

Political observers here say voter disinterest could affect the

outcome of this year’s elections by forcing candidates to modify their campaign

strategies to reach a smaller pool of voters.

The smaller election turnout

on Kaua’i coincides with growing voter apathy among Asians and Pacific

Islanders in Hawai’i. A smaller percentage of them voted in the 1998 elections

than in the 1994 election, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Up or grabs

this fall are a U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives seat, three seats

in the state House of Representatives race, all seven positions on the Kaua’i

County Council, two on the state Board of Education and all nine seats on the

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.

In 1990, 1992, 1996 and 1998,

the number of voters dropped from 80 to 74 percent. The exception was the 1994

general election, in which 81 percent of the 27,719 registered voters on

Kaua’i went to the polls.

In ’94, Maryanne Kusaka squared off in the

mayoral race against Jimmy Tehada, who had beaten incumbent JoAnn Yukimura, a

strong advocate for controlled growth, in the primary election.

Between

1990 and 1998, the number of registered voters from three election districts on

Kaua’i increased from 27,162 to 33,063, according to election officials.

During the 1998 election, 24,366 cast votes. Election district13, which covers

Kawaihau and Lihu’e districts, and election district 14, which covers south

and west Kaua’i, both boasted a 75 percent turnout—the highest on the

island.

Election district 12, comprised of the North Shore, came in last

with a 70 percent turnout, with 5,825 of 8,354 voters going to the

polls.

Kaua’i election officials wouldn’t speculate on the reasons for the

drop-off in voters, saying only that in some years the turnout is small because

voters don’t like the slate of candidates.

Residents also don’t vote when

they feel the election-year issues won’t affect them, observers say.

In

contrast, voters on Kaua’i came out in force in the 1980s, when the average

voter turnout was 80 percent.

A smaller percentage of Asians and Pacific

Islanders in Hawai’i voted in the 1998 elections than in the 1994 election,

according to the Census. The percentage of those voters dropped from 39 percent

in 1994 to 32 percent in 1998.

The decrease mirrored a national trend. The

percentage of all Americans who voted fell from 48 percent in1994 to 45 percent

in 1998, the lowest rate recorded by the Census.

The only racial group

nationwide that increased its voting percentage was blacks, from 39 percent in

1994 to 42 percent in 1998.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached

at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and [

HREF=”mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net”>lchang@pulitzer.net]

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