It’s important to remember that these percentages are only of registered voters, and not of all residents who are actually qualified to vote, IF they were registered.
In 2019, only 53.9% of the entire voting age population of Hawai‘i was registered to vote.
For residents ages 18 to 24, just 29.5% are registered, and for those age 65+, some 63.4% are registered.
In round numbers, only a little more than half of the voting-age population is actually registered to vote, and only half of those registered actually do vote.
It gets worse. Using the same math, only 15% of young people vote, while more than twice as many old folk show up at every single election. Older individuals are the super-voters.
If you were running for election and have limited resources, do you spend your time with people who vote or people who don’t vote?
Increased civic engagement and increased citizen participation in our local government is the key to making our government work for all of us. Yes, we need new leaders to step forward to run for public office, but we need citizens to take responsibility for their role as well.
While there are many factors involved in achieving this goal, increasing voter turnout among all ages and demographics is critical. It starts with voting and being registered to vote in the first place. Following in a close second place is increased voter education.
Hawai‘i’s next step in making voting available to everyone should be enacting automatic voter registration (AVR). The 2020 primary election brought historically high (but still relatively low) voter-turnout numbers that can be attributed to Hawai‘i’s shift to all-mail-in ballots. This year people had time to review their choices from the comfort of their home without having to worry about finding the time to go or standing in line at the polls.
Imagine for a second if when these individuals first got their drivers license or IDs that they were automatically registered to vote (unless they requested to opt out). This could and would significantly increase the numbers of registered voters in the state, increase the number of ballots delivered, and surely increase the number of ballots returned.
And, yes, the number of young voters registered and actually voting would also increase dramatically. For whatever reason, my instincts tell me Hawai‘i would be better off if more of our young people were involved in the selection of our government leaders.
During the recent primary election, several races were decided by only a handful of votes. With the majority of legislative districts having only 3,000 to 7,000 total votes cast, every vote truly does count. Increased voter registration, especially among young voters would, I believe, also weight the scale more toward the “change” candidates, and away from the “same ole, same ole,” status-quo candidates.
Of course, registering to vote is the vital first step, but not the only one needed. Candidates, our government and our community must elevate the importance of voting and provide access to quality and timely information.
All registered voters now get a ballot mailed directly to their doorstep. Why not ask our government to take the next step and provide a “voter guide” in that same envelope? Imagine if every candidate had the same opportunity to provide voters with two or three paragraphs about themselves, their values, their ideas for the future, and perhaps include their web address. Voters would then have a timely and impartial source of information upon which they could make their decisions. All candidates, rich or poor, incumbent or challenger, would be treated equally.
As we move toward the general election, which this year includes the all-important selection of the next president of the United States, we will, I hope, see even higher voter turnouts than previous years. Residents can still register to vote, all the way up until Election Day on Nov. 3.
But imagine if voter registration instead of being an afterthought or a chore was automatic for qualified residents and everyone got a ballot in the mail. Imagine further if the number of “informed voters” was also elevated. And, yes, imagine a local democracy where all of us participate and where all of us are responsible.
Now, wake up, please, stop dreaming and take some meaningful action. Contact your state legislator today and encourage them to support automatic voter registration AND increased voter education.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.