After the primaries, the real elections are coming up on Kauai again. This is one thing you cannot miss, because following the old, but maybe nonsense tradition, election signs are posted on almost every corner along the highways. They are of various sizes and they are colorful. Some of them are trying to catch your attention with the size of their lettering and some of them with a picture. But do these campaign signs promote a democratic election?
As the date of the local election approaches, the sign wavers along the roads, sometimes alone but mostly with a handful of their candidates, also want to influence your decision. They want to impress you that the candidates are visible or that they have supporters, but as a matter of fact, they are giving you only directional signs on which way to bend. They want your vote. This system is light years away from democratic elections, because most people will be voting for a sign or a roadside waving, not for someone who will potentially serve their interests.
You must have learned in school what real democracy is. It is the will of the people. And for what are the people supposed to vote? For a representative that will serve them by fighting for their interests. But, regardless of the rhetoric, this is not what’s happening. Your vote means that you have decided to follow this or that candidate. In real democracy it should mean that the elected candidate should follow your will.
Our election system is inverted. Some candidates hold meetings and campaign speeches and you can go there and listen to them. If you are lucky you can speak your mind — with a time restriction, of course.
Don’t you think that we, the people, should organize islandwide meetings first? Big meetings with lots of people for the sake of discussing burning issues.
Our parks are the perfect location for such meetings. Let also the visitors there hear our concerns. Maybe that’s what they need in order to make a decision about moving or rather not moving here.
The purpose is to have the public voice its opinion about current concerns. The meetings should be planned well in advance and announced everywhere with signs — even if some of them might be handmade signs on cardboard or bed sheets — posted at those many places where the current election signs are posted. They are more effective than mass mailing. Our community television Hoike and our community radio KKCR can and will make frequent announcements about them. Our newspaper TGI is here to list them. You can use emails too, but don’t solely rely on them.
There are some important elements to the democratic success of the meetings. The meetings should always be concern-specific and cover only one issue per meeting. Different meetings for different concerns.
Those who are concerned should be present, but no special invitations should be sent to any of the candidates.
If the candidates expect us to find out about their meetings, we expect them to pay attention to the signs and announcements about these public meetings and show up. The public should decide what questions to ask from the candidates, not like currently that the candidate’s staff selects which questions will be asked. The candidate’s answer or his/her inability or unwillingness to answer will be the true measure of his/her potential to be a good representative of the people.
To be fair, we should give them as much time to speak as much they give to members of the public at the Kauai County Council meetings or other meetings organized by them. The rationale is that if we have to master condensing our manaʻo into a few minutes, they should be able to do the same. These meetings should not be for campaign speeches.
That’s when and how the democratic election begins. Watching how many of the candidates show up without personal invitation and what the substance of their answer to the concern of the public is. This will give you more clues as to what to expect from a candidate than seeing only his or her sign along the highways.
If they find time for sign waving, they should find time for attending these islandwide meetings as well. Those whom they plan to represent should be the top of their priority lists.
Holding referendums is another tool of a democratic process.
We the people should decide if we prefer a county manager system or the current money wasting system. It is not enough that three outstanding people — Walter Lewis, Glenn Mickens and Ken Taylor — speak up frequently for the change. If you are not satisfied with the current system you, too, should get off your butt and support their initiatives by supporting them, speaking up, writing letters or articles, or calling the talk shows on the radio.
It is we the people who should decide about GMO labeling on food stuff and it is us who should decide about more military or none on the island and more than everything else we the people, not the council should decide about holding referendums on any subject we deem important. But that needs all of us, including you and me.
If there are no changes in the current system, the specter of dissatisfaction may direct many hands to make write-in votes or simply invalidate their vote by writing “none of them” across the ballot, just like voters did in Bosnia, Indonesia, Florida and even on Kauai at the primary.
János Keoni Samu is a resident of Kalaheo.