Kauai sees state’s highest voter turnout

LIHUE — After tallying the highest voter turnout in a primary election in 12 years back in August, Kauai led the state in Tuesday’s general election with the highest percentage of registered voters making their way to the polls.

Out of 41,869 registered voters, 57.4 percent (or 24,043) cast their vote, down from 62.9 percent in the 2012 presidential election.

“Of course, we always would like to have that number be much higher,” said County Elections Administrator Lyndon Yoshioka.

A total of 12,486 county residents, or 51.9 percent of all general election voters, voted absentee — up from 48.7 percent in 2012. The remaining 11,557 voters, meanwhile, went out to the polls and voted.

Some residents here said the issues — and candidates — drove people to the polls.

Christian Domingues, an avid voter, said professional surfer and mayoral hopeful Dustin Barca was an intriguing draw in his unsuccessful bid for office.

“I think that definitely certain issues pushed people to the polls,” he said of this election. “Like Barca running, you know, I think that got a lot of people that wouldn’t normally vote to vote. Kind of motivated them.”

Rocky Pascua, of Hanapepe, agreed that candidates were a big draw this year. He said he believes the turnout here likely has to do with the way people are raised and that Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. deserved to be re-elected because of how he handled the GMO issue with respect for both sides.

“You want Kauai to be better, especially for the next generation, so I push that on our kids too and I try to educate our kids on the values and making Kauai a better place to live for them as well in the long run, and you want to preserve and protect and also have a government that is there for the next generation,” he said.

On the other side of the coin, Hawaii as a state set a new record for lowest turnout, at 52.3 percent, according to uncertified election figures.

Yoshioka said voter turnout is complicated and fluctuates from year to year depending on the races and issues.

Aria Juliet Castillo, communications director of Kauai Young Democrats, said she thinks this past year has proven Kauai is very engaged, “since we had the highest increase in voter registration and highest voter turnout on both elections this year.”

She said she personally helped register at least 500 people, most of whom were under the age of 35, and is interested to see if there was a jump in the younger demographic.

“I think that people are motivated by candidates first, issues second and the overall excitement around the election,” Castillo wrote in an email.

And she believes more can be done to get people excited about voting, including “Vote Today” signs along roadways, organized events like the recent “Rock Da Vote” and even small things like “I Voted” stickers.

“I think the fact that Hawaii does not give out ‘I Voted’ stickers at the polls says a lot about the leadership of the Office of Elections,” she wrote.

Hanamaulu resident Jim Ehia Jr. agreed Kauaians are engaged and said that the turnout is likely the result of the younger generation taking an interest and raising awareness about what is important to them. And he is confident that the issue of genetically modified organisms brought out people that may not have normally voted.

“There’s so much happening right now that everybody is really starting to get involved, which is how it’s supposed to be,” he said. “Let the people speak. When the people speak, they pick the person they want.”

Chanelle Hashimoto, a Lihue customer service representative, agreed.

“I go every year and I vote because people make a difference as far as who’s going to be in the next seat,” she said. “If we vote it makes a difference for the island.”

Not everyone is on board.

Alicia Viquelia, also of Hanapepe, said she couldn’t speak to why Kauai’s numbers are higher than the rest of the state, but felt 24,000 voters isn’t all that many when you consider the island has 41,000 registered voters. And among the many Kauai residents who didn’t cast a vote was Robert Ann, a gas station attendant in Lihue.

“Because when I do vote it’s like we never get heard anyways,” he said when questioned why he didn’t head to the polls. “People say ‘don’t vote, don’t grumble,” but even if you do vote and grumble nothing happens.”

Yoshioka said his office provides the services and makes voting as convenient and accessible as possible. This year, elections even took extra steps to try and encourage people to get to the polls, including sending out election notices and putting up posters with important election dates, he said. 

In the end, however, Yoshioka says a person’s desire to vote is their free will.

“I would love if more people would just come out and vote,” he said. “(But) it’s kind of like pulling hair.”

Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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