Voter registration poor indicator of turnout
The number of Hawaii residents registered to vote in next month's primary election has topped 621,000, according to the state's four county clerks.
But while the number of registered voters represents about 60 percent of Hawaii's voting age population, getting all of those people to actually cast ballots is another matter entirely.
In Hawaii's 2010 General Election, 690,748 residents registered to vote, or nearly 67 percent of those 18 years old and older. However, turnout based on voting age and legal residency was only 43.1 percent, according to statistics gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau. The 2010 results place Hawaii 39th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in getting voters to the polls.
"It's easy to register," said the state's election chief, Scott Nago. "I don't know why people don't turn out."
Hawaii's low voter turnout is especially troubling when you consider how easy it is to register. Voter registration cards can be found at the DMV, post offices, libraries and state office buildings. And when considering absentee voter registration, you don't even have to leave your home to cast a ballot, if you don't want to.
"If you sign up for a permanent absentee ballot, you can do absentee mail or absentee walk," Nago explains. "There's a lot of ways somebody can actually vote aside from going to the polling place on Election Day."
KITV4 News partner CivilBeat.com is currently running a special series on voter apathy in Hawaii. The analysis shows Kihei, Maui is traditionally the worst community for voter participation.
"There's folks working in the hotels (and) there's a lot of condos there, so maybe they're not as rooted," said CivilBeat reporter-host Chad Blair.
In direct contrast to Kihei is East Oahu – a community which consistently turns out the highest percentage of voters to the polls statewide. Again, demographics likely plays a major role on Election Day participation.
"It has a lot to do with education, (and) has a lot to do with financial status," said Blair. "East Honolulu is among the wealthier areas throughout the state."
Purging Hawaii's voter registration rolls of apathetic voters could provide a better indication of how many people may actually participate in elections, however the 1993 National Voter Registration Act has made the process much more time consuming.
"Prior to the federal law, you could remove somebody for not voting in two elections," said Nago. "Now, we have to do follow-ups and send out mailers before we can put them on inactive status."
With 76 seats in the state House and Senate up for grabs, a three-way mayoral race centered on a controversial rail transit project, and an open U.S. Senate seat, there's plenty in this election cycle for voters to get excited. But if history is a good indicator, turnout in Hawaii will remain low.
"Even in 2008 when Barack Obama, our native son was on the ballot, (turnout) was like in the 50's," said Blair. "That is just pretty shameful."
On Friday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a bill into law that will make it even easier for Hawaii voters to register.
Act 225 allows Hawaii to move forward with online voter registration in the 2016 election cycle by using much of the same information currently found on voter registration cards.
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