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Hawaii's Voter Turnout (Sue Miller)
Hillside Development Above Ka Iwi State Park
Affordable Shelter Committee (Jackie Parnell)
Rail Transit Meeting on August 28 (Charles Carole)
Membership News (Teresa Lau)
LWV Committee to Study Hawaii Drug Policy (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
League Urges Governor to Save Kukui Gardens (Jackie Parnell)

Hawaii's Voter Turnout

It was with great interest that I have read the recent articles on voter turnout in Hawaii. Many times the statistics and numbers provided in one article conflict with those provided in another with quoted 2004 voter turnout percentages ranging from 40% to a high of 56%.

In reviewing some of the articles further, it turns out that "Voter Turnout" is defined in different ways. Depending on who is the source of the information provided to the media and how critical the situation is portrayed, voter turnout is defined as: 1) the ratio of number of persons who vote compared to the number of persons who are 18 or older; 2) versus refined population estimates that remove Hawaii's large number of military personnel or other demographic groups; and 3) other articles seem to indicate that voter turnout is based on the number of registered voters.

In order to assess whether the voter turnout situation is a "true" problem for Hawaii and whether Hawaii's turnout is comparable to the mainland turnout, a comparison of apples to apples is necessary. Based on data that was pulled from the Census Bureau and the State Office of Elections, I developed the following table to compare Hawaii's voter turnout in the last three Presidential elections, based on population over the age 18, to the nation's voter turnout.

YearsVoter Turnout
 HawaiiNationwide
200444%58%
200041% 54%
199647%54%

Based on the above table, the local media's chest-beating and attention placed on this issue is justified. Hawaii's voter turnout is less than 50% and is getting worse when compared to the mainland. Hawaii's voter turnout has decreased significantly in the past 10 years and although it appears that this trend was reversed with the turnout increase from the 2000 to the 2004 elections, the disparity between Hawaii's and the nation's voter turnout continued to grow during the same period.

Luckily, the Honolulu City Clerk's office recognized this growing problem and, rather than studying the situation to death, took action to make voting more accessible. With approved funding from the City Council of approximately $80,000, in July the City Clerk's office mailed more than 236,000 applications for absentee ballots to all of the households in Honolulu with a registered voter.

Absentee balloting, a practice that became common in the 1800s to allow fighting soldiers temporarily away from home to vote, is the most convenient and popular method for voters to participate in the democratic process. According to Mr. Glen Takahashi, the City's Election Officer, absentee balloting, along with early walk-in voting, accounted for more than 30% of the Honolulu votes made in the 2004 elections. Also, the number of persons voting by absentee ballot grew 25% from 2002 to 2004, from 55,000 to 70,000 voters.

In Hawaii, it is especially easy to vote via an absentee ballot since voters are not required to state their reason or excuse for voting by absentee ballot and the postage for the mailing of the ballots is paid by the state. Absentee ballots allow people the flexibility to vote when it is convenient for their schedules as well as avoiding parking jams and long lines.

Through the Honolulu City Clerk's efforts, it is anticipated that more Honolulu voters will apply for their absentee ballots and actually vote not only in the upcoming 2006 elections but in all the elections that follow. According to Mr. Takahashi, 80 to 90% of applicants for absentee ballots return their votes and the majority continue to vote using absentee ballots in subsequent elections, indicating that a high correlation between absentee ballot applications and voter turnout may exist.

In addition, the City's efforts already appear successful in generating more interest in absentee voting. The City has already received 30,000 applications from Honolulu voters (as of August 2nd), nearly half of the number of absentee voters in 2004.

Although the jury is still out on how successful this mailout of applications will be in actually increasing voter turnout, I am grateful that a government agency is proactive in addressing this problem. Kudos to the Honolulu City Clerk's office and may we have more initiatives such as this that endeavors to engage everyone in the democratic process!

Sue Miller,
Vice President
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