Numbers Show We Disappear On Election Day

Gregory Yamamoto

Editor's Note: Civil Beat has been exploring Hawaii's low voter participation rates through a series of initiatives. In May, we polled voters and non-voters alike to ask why they do or don't vote. In June, we teamed up with the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly to develop a new Facebook voting game, Our Hawaiian Spring, aimed at engaging people in this year's elections. This special series of stories by veteran Hawaii political reporter and blogger Ian Lind is another effort to understand why many people don't vote in Hawaii and what can be done to change that. Today we take a close look at the numbers and in coming days will delve into the reasons why they are so low.

Hawaii voters went to the polls in large numbers between June 1959 and November 1960, first to determine whether they wanted the islands to become the 50th state, then to elect the entire slate of state officials, including governor, lieutenant governor and Legislature, and finally to participate in the islands’ first presidential election.

This flurry of political activity came just five years after the balance of political power tipped in favor of a surging Democratic Party. Public support appeared evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and there were contested races at all levels as the new state took shape.

This was heady stuff, and voter turnout was stunningly high. A record 93.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the statehood referendum held in June 1959, and turnout in 1960’s General Election was just a fraction of a percent lower at 93.1 percent, according to statistics compiled by the Hawaii Office of Elections.

But times and politics have definitely changed.

Across the country, voter turnout has been on the decline since the 1960s, but Hawaii started higher than most and has fallen farther over the years.

Simply put, it appears fewer people in Hawaii bother to vote than in almost any other place. The reasons are not at all clear, but the data appears to be.

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