Mail-In Voting The Winner In Special Election

RJ Brown/Civil Beat

"Disgraceful."

That's the word Jean Aoki of the League of Woman Voters of Hawaii uses to describe the voter turnout in the 2003 special election to fill Patsy Mink's 2nd Congressional District seat.

She's not alone. An embarrassing reality in Hawaii is that people here don't vote.

The U.S. Census Bureau, using its own surveys, ranked Hawaii last in the nation (51.8 percent) for voter turnout in 2008 — the year the nation elected a president who was born in Hawaii. The State Elections Office puts the turnout figure at 66 percent. By either measure, Hawaii voter turnout is low.

Interest in local elections may be turning a corner, however, judging from voter participation in the May 22 special election for the 1st Congressional District, which features three heavyweights: Democrats Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa and Republican Charles Djou.

As of May 20, some 48 percent — or 152,000 — of the ballots mailed to 317,337 registered voters in the district had been mailed back. Voting in person at Honolulu Hale ended Thursday.

That's already twice the number of residents who voted in 2003, when the 2nd district had 348,000 registered voters. That vote so appalled political leaders that the Legislature gave the State Elections Office authority to hold all-mail special elections.

In that race, 44 candidates were on the ballot, but just 22 percent of registered voters turned out. Case finished first, and Hanabusa was third. Voting occurred at polling places on Jan. 4, the first Saturday after New Year's Day.

Turnout in the current contest has already surpassed the 41 percent and 45 percent turnout in two mail-in-only special elections in 2009 to fill vacancies created by the deaths of two Honolulu City Council incumbents.

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