Last Tuesday, I took advantage of early voting in Lihue. While I’ve always preferred the atmosphere of polling places on Election Day, I now realize this is yet another holdover from an earlier, less-connected era. In our modern day, a walk to a neighborhood polling place to cast a ballot with your fellow citizens is less and less the practice in both urban and rural locales.
Along the way, I have also been giving a great deal of thought to the ways the Kauai County Council can evolve after the upcoming election. In that regard, I’ve been scrutinizing two outsider candidates who could become authentic change agents on the council: Arthur Brun and Juno Ann Apalla.
More on them a little later.
I’ve been struck by the number of people who delude themselves by thinking that not voting is a legitimate response to the dilemma many face: In the presidential race, they don’t like either major party candidate and this year’s crop of third party options is lackluster.
I’m old enough that when I first was eligible to vote, the age requirement was 21. That was in 1968 and I was in U.S. Army basic training at Fort Dix, N.J. The presidential candidates were Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. It was an odious choice. I voted for Humphrey because the thought of Nixon as president was too awful to contemplate. He won.
Fast forward. This year, we have a presidential election in which both major party candidates have failed to capture the hearts and imaginations of Americans in many ways (or captured them in the wrong ways). But one of them is an option so horrific that, as much as I have reservations, I’m voting (with increasing enthusiasm) for Hillary Clinton.
Voters do not have the option of sitting any election out. Just as the people running for office, if elected, will have to make decisions from a set of undesirable options, so voters must grit their teeth and find the best options they can. But, above all, they must vote. To refuse to do so forfeits the right to complain later. Or as I’ve heard it said in Kauai: No vote, no grumble.
Which brings me to voting last Tuesday. I’d seen a television spot advertising the growing trend of early voting in which President Obama notes that he is compulsively early.
But Kauai politicians have not yet figured this out, despite ample evidence. The primary last August had horrible turnout, but while 12.3 percent of Kauai’s roughly 43,000 voters cast their votes in conventional polling places, an astonishing 23.2 percent voted early or by absentee ballot. Early/absentee, in other words, was almost double the old-fashioned kind.
In 2012, the Kauai County turnout general election was 30.6 percent by early or absentee, while 32.2 percent voted at polling places. This tide was turned in 2014, when early/absentee surpassed polling place voting 29.8 percent to 27.6 percent.
And that’s with only one early voting location, in Lihue. If there were five or six locations — an option that is probably unaffordable — old-fashioned polling places would be extraneous.
Kauai is far from alone. In the August primary, Maui, Hawaii and Honolulu counties all recorded turnouts in which early/absentee ran ahead of the traditional way. Statewide, 21.5 percent of eligible voters opted for early/absentee, compared with 13.2 percent for polling places.
Disregard, for now, the painful fact that the total voter turnout in all of these Hawaii elections was pathetic. Expanded early voting could help to entice people who don’t vote now to do so. Instead of thrashing non-voters, maybe we should find other ways to encourage them.
Election pace and timing is a sea change that is not just potential, but it’s real. The electoral process is better for it. Yet, in this year’s political season on Kauai, it seems virtually all candidates are running on the outmoded premise that Nov. 8 is the crescendo to which campaigns build. They seem not to realize that the climax actually was about Oct. 25 — the first day of early voting and about the first time that absentee voters were putting their ballots in the mail.
So we’re continuing to see a pace and timing disconnect in which the real high point of the election season passes without candidate acknowledgment.
Which brings me to Juno Ann Apalla and Arthur Brun. Disclosure: I’ve made small contributions to each of their campaigns. That notwithstanding, I’m only suggesting that both of these candidates could bring an intriguing perspective and infuse new blood to a body that badly needs revitalizing. Voters should take a look at these two.
Brun ran unsuccessfully in 2014. In that election, I told him in an email that I could not vote for him because I thought the still-raw sensitivities of the battle over the anti-GMO/pesticide Bill 2491 meant that a seed company employee on the council would be politically unable to enable consensus.
It’s two years later, and it’s a different time. Brun, Kalaheo born and a Waimea High School graduate, has had his share of difficult times in his life. They include a criminal and drug abuse record. He’s unquestionably a grassroots person who has turned his life around to one of service, in which a major preoccupation is the urgency of improving drug abuse treatment on Kauai. He’s right.
I’ve never asked him how he would vote on a variety of issues the County Council will, doubtless, address, because it seems reasonably clear that, if he’s elected, he’ll make an honest effort to do the right thing. I may disagree with him, but, if he is chosen, l would be able to respect him.
Juno Ann Apalla brings other credentials. First, she’s 28 and a member of the Millennial generation. The County Council has no member who directly represents today’s residents from 15 to about 30. This is a period of vast and rapid change and young people today deserve to be heard through the voice of a contemporary.
Apalla, born in the Philippines and raised on Kauai, left the island for college in Oregon for the same reason Kauai loses so many young people: She saw no career pathway on Kauai. Accordingly, she knows that dynamic must change. She hadn’t planned to return, until she was badly hurt when she was hit by a car as a pedestrian, and came home to be with her family.
She’s a work in progress, but she seems to understand the basic issues with a sophistication beyond her years. She told me she doesn’t know how she would have voted on Bill 2491 because arguments surrounding it were “unclear” (I’ll give her that) but that the larger issue of “food justice” that relies on both industrial agriculture and small farmers using sustainable methods needs to be addressed in far greater depth than it has been on Kauai. It’s about balance. She’s right.
Allan Parachini is a former journalist and PR executive. He is a Kilauea resident.