Fall 2002 Home   Newsletters

Winter 2002

Convention Edition 2003

Impossible Electoral Contest (Jean Aoki)
Jean Aoki Honored
Hawaii Clean Elections Coalition (Grace Furukawa)
This Land Was Your Land
Howard Criss
Initiative and Referendum Study (Marian Wilkins)
Travel Fundraiser (Grace Furukawa)
Recent Publications Available in League's Library
Local League News - Honolulu (Pearl Johnson)
Local League News - Hawaii (Marian Wilkins)
Local League News - Kaua'i (Carol Bain)
Local League News - Maui (Andrea Dean)

Recent Publications Available in League's Library

Ka Leo plans to include occasional reviews of books we have acquired, which are of prospective interest to League members. Jo Judy starts us off with two such reviews.

THE VANISHING VOTER: PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT IN AN AGE OF UNCERTAINTY Thomas A. Patterson; Alfred A. Knopf. N.Y. 2002.186 pp

Thomas Patterson's The Vanishing Voter explores the downturn in voting numbers in the United States, a narrower aspect of what Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone) called "civic disengagement." Support for the several points made in the book was garnered from thousands of weekly surveys conducted during the 2000 presidential campaign as part of the Vanishing Voter Project – a study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Using statistics from the Vanishing Voter Project as well as historical data, Patterson devoted several chapters to four major factors he credits for the slow slide in citizen voting: decline of powerful political parties (Chapter 2); an amoral news media (Chapter 3); and changes in the electoral system, combined with overly long campaigns (Chapter 4). It is not the citizens but the effect of policy changes, concludes Patterson, that has decreased the stake, interest and confidence of citizens in elections. Thus, while there have been dips in voting numbers in the past, the most recent has lasted longer.

Patterson places the four policy changes discussed in the book within a political-historical background. For example, in Chapter 3 he explains how the media moved from a partisan to a more neutral form of reporting in the early 1900s. Patterson claims that after Watergate, however, an interpretive style of reporting was adopted that was both explanatory and descriptive. It was this interpretive style that Patterson believes increased negative journalism which has contributed to the decrease in voting. The author describes the rise of the Electoral College, the increase of state primaries, and the decline of the powerful political parties in the same historical manner.

Employing results of The Vanishing Voter survey, Patterson concluded that in addition to the alienated, apathetic and disconnected citizen has been added a group he calls "the disenchanted." In Chapter 5, he moves into his suggestions on how to improve voting numbers. The single most important change, he writes, would be "same day registration." Again, Patterson presents the political-historical reasons that individual states have been slow to change restrictive voting procedures and adopt same day registration. He also utilizes statistics from those places that have same day registration to show that it is likely to improve the numbers who vote. However, while this single change would make a small improvement, it is changes in other policy areas that he feels will make the most significant long-term improvements.

In the last chapter, Patterson crafts his "modest" recommendations for change. Briefly, he feels that the Electoral College system needs revamping, that we should have a single nationwide primary, that campaigns should be significantly shortened, and that the federal government should mandate same day registration.

Overall, Patterson's book is readable and his points are supported by sources and explanatory notes. However, his conclusions seemed rushed. The reader may feel pushed to a conclusion rather than ready to agree with him. He sometimes does not cover the opposition's arguments as thoroughly as needed, or explain why his conclusion is supportable while a contrary conclusion is not. Despite this, the book is recommended for its attempt to place citizen apathy in a historical perspective and provide specific suggestions for changes.

OPEN DOORS

Ian Marquand, Freedom of Information chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists, Compiler Open Doors is a timely publication, given the concern expressed by many about the threats to the Freedom of Information Act posed by the impending war on Iraq and certain provisions of the Department of Homeland Security.

In her introduction to this book, Helen Thomas, veteran journalist, says, " the media and citizens' groups have fought long and hard to gain access to government records and meetings. Experience has taught us that open government is a 'use it or lose it' proposition. Unless we continue to assert our right, the public's right of access, we will lose it."

This slim paperback, organized and written so it is intelligible to the average citizen, explains the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), its provisions, and its importance not only to the media but to ordinary citizens. While it talks about the kinds of government information which are available and the importance of this access in a democratic society, it also discusses citizens' concerns about our right to privacy and what information about our lives should be a matter of open record and what should not be.

Most of the elements contained in Open Doors are also available online at spj.org.


LWV - Hawaii

Maile Bay - President
Jacqueline Parnell - Vice President
Grace Furukawa - Secretary
Janet Mason - Treasurer

Board
Jean Aoki
Sunni Baran
Meda Chesney-Lind
Suzanne Meisenzahl

Publication Editors
Mary Anne Raywid
Suzanne Meisenzahl

Production
Jonalynn Sing


Fall 2002 Home   Newsletters Convention Edition 2003