Elections officials struggle once again with low voter turnout

Honolulu Hale

If early vote totals are any indication, voter turnout will once again by low for Hawaii’s General Election.

KHON2 checked with the county clerks, and the most recent counts revealed only a little more than 140,000 absentee walk-in and mail-in ballots have been received so far by elections officials statewide.

That compares to a grand total of 163,390 votes that were cast early for the 2010 General Election. The 2012 election saw a total of 200,111, but that was a presidential election year, which usually generates more interest among voters.

On this Halloween, the real scare is that elections officials in Honolulu so far are just not seeing the numbers with absentee balloting, and they don’t see it getting any better as they expect an overall low voter turnout.

“There’s a range, anywhere from 260,000 to 300,000 (on Oahu),” said Glenn Takahashi, elections administrator for the City and County of Honolulu. “We’re going to be at the bottom end, if not lower.”

Absentee balloting is closely watched because most people are opting to cast their ballots this way, either by walking to an early polling place or mailing it in, and absentee votes are a good indication of voter interest.

To put this in more perspective: More and more people are opting to vote early and vote by mail. This year, there were only 131, 215 voters who requested to vote by mail, an increase of 3,687 requests. Usually, elections officials see at least 10,000 to 15,000 such requests. Another indication is that most people who vote by mail will send in their ballots early, and that number is low compared with other election cycles.

So why the lack of voter interest? John Hart, a political observer and professor of communications at Hawaii Pacific University, offers a few reasons.

“We see negative advertising, which people say they don’t like, but we know is effective,” he said. “We see increasingly negative advertising on social media, we see tons and tons of flyers, often multiples, in our mailbox which we throw away.”

“It’s kind of sad, because I think mainly people come out to vote for things they are passionately against instead of for,” said Deeana Niderost.

“That means if you vote, you have even more power,” said Russell Castagnaro. “If less people are voting, you have more say.”

If the numbers remain consistent, it will appear that Hawaii is headed once again for yet another low voter turnout at the polls. Officials are wondering what to do to reverse what appears to be voter apathy in the last few elections.

In a study released Monday by WalletHub, a personal finance social network, Hawaii ranked lowest for the percent of the population registered to vote in the 2012 presidential election, at 58.9 percent. Only West Virginia had a lower voter turnout that year, at 47.8 percent. Hawaii’s percentage was 51.6 percent. Again, that is the percentage of the total population who care to vote.

Here are the numbers of people actually registered to vote in the last three General Elections:

voter turnout chart

“I think within the next few election cycles there’s a good possibility for all mail-in voting,” said Ernie Martin, Honolulu City Council chairman. “So hopefully, that will encourage more voting.”

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