by Alan McNarie
Okay, the election is over. The 11:30 printout is here, and at least as far as the Big Island is concerned, the results from 10 p.m. stand. And where Hawaii is concerned, this may have been the least dramatic election in history. All the people who were expected to win, won. There was maybe some doubt, at least in major newspapers’ minds, about the governor’s race, but that was quickly resolved: David Ige took a commanding lead early and never let go of it. All Mufi Hanneman’s 3rd-party run did was deprive Ige of a full majority; he’ll have to rule with a 49 percent mandate instead of 51 percent or more, which he would almost certainly have gotten if Mufi hadn’t tapped the same overwhelmingly Democratic pool of voters.
Or maybe a lot less than 49 percent. There actually is some drama in those election numbers if you look at them. This election does raise some questions and suggest some uncomfortable implications for the state of the State of Hawaii, and of democracy therein. Among them:
The majority that elects people isn’t a majority of the people. No sooner had the 11:30 printout come out, then the Star Advertiser posted a story that this election had marked a new “record low” turnout of voters–at “52 percent.” But I suspect that percentage is based on the number of registered voters compared to people who voted. The reality may be even grimmer. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that in 2013, Hawaii had a population of 1,404, 054 people (That’s a pretty fine-toothed estimate. If I was doing it, I’d have rounded off to the nearest 100, at least). Out of those, the Census’s Quick Facts Page says that 21.9 percent of Hawaii’s population was under the age of 18. That means 78.1 percent of the population is of voting age. 78.1 percent of 1,404,054 people is 1,096,566.174, if this English major’s calculator is correct. Round that down to a whole person: 1,096,566. Again, if I’ve calculated correctly, 325, 560 voted for a gubernatorial candidate in the 2014 General election. That means that, assuming our population has grown since 2013, less than 30 percent of persons of voting age in Hawaii actually voted in this year’s most important, controversial race. Of those, only 180, 790 voted for Ige. So Ige was actually elected by a little under 16 percent of people of voting age in Hawaii. Is this really democracy?
In some races, there was no vote at all. Dennis “Fresh” Onishi is going back to the Hawaii County Council, despite a horrendous absentee rate and a habit, even when he makes the roll call, of being out of the room when people are testifying. He’ll be there because nobody ran against him. Dru Kanuha has never actually been voted on. He “ran” for a council seat that he helped create as a member of the rezoning committee, and nobody opposed him then, and nobody opposed him for a second term either. He’s a councilmember by default.
So why don’t people vote? Why don’t they run?
I don’t have any solid numbers about that. But I’ve heard a lot of personal testimony. A lot of people in the social media are maintaining that they aren’t really being offered a choice at the ballot booth–that Big Money has rigged the ballot, and no matter which candidate they choose, they basically end up with the same uncaring government. As one reader put it in a comment on this site on election day:
Why vote? Good question, it is a futile act of craziness. Anyone who thinks their vote is counted or even is significant is wrong! MONSANTO votes regularly, it’s [sic]vote counts. If you are an average person with average income your vote is negated by MONSANTO and the rest of the 1%.
There’s some truth in this. I should know. I’ve been writing about campaign finance and money in politics for twenty years. It’s a big, big problem. But I also know that….
Big Money doesn’t always win. In fact, time after time, I’ve seen big money backfire–especially if its presence is pointed out. Case in point: Margaret Wille. The author of the county’s law limiting genetically modified crops, who’s known for her pro-environmental leanings, was targeted with an enormous $100,000 media blitz by a Carpenter’s Union PAC called Forward Progress–all of which was documented and brought to the public’s attention by Nancy Cook Lauer in an excellent article in West Hawaii Today. That $100,000 was in addition to the $34,00o raised by Gonzales from other sources. Wille was outspent by a margin of over three to one. For that 134,000 dollars or so, Gonzales got 2,149 votes. Wille got 3, 154.
And then, of course, there’s Maui, where the full economic might of Monsanto and the whole agribusiness establishment couldn’t stop an anti-GMO charter amendment.
There are reasons that Big Money doesn’t always win, and one of the big reasons is the Internet. Big Money doesn’t really understand the Internet as well as activists do, at least at this point in time. Big business is still making big media buys on TV and radio, while activists can spread ideas and knowledge like wildfire for free. I first read Lauer’s article, for instance, not in West Hawaii Today, but in an e-mail. That Internet edge may change soon. But right now, there’s a window of opportunity for real change.
All politicians are definitely not the same. I’ve known some real stinkers, but I’ve also met a number of good ones, who put the people and the land and the ocean and the air ahead of dollars. The problem is getting more good ones on the ballot. Which leads to the next point:
We need better candidates.Take a good look at tonight’s results: Many of those people were elected with margins of 70 percent or more. Some of them are good public servants who’ve earned people’s support. Others have mediocre legislative records, at best. But they have name recognition and they have money, so people don’t even challenge them. Or their challengers are ideologues, less concerned about winning than about preaching. If you look at the ballots tonight, at first glance, it might appear the main opposition to the Democrats, especially on this island, are the Libertarians. There are more Libertarians in general election races in Hawaii County than there were Republicans this year. But that ubiquitousness doesn’t mean that they were strong opposition; their percentage of the vote was generally in the teens or lower, and it generally shrank to single digits if a Republican was in the same race. And remember, even a 15 percent showing is only 15 percent or so of the 30 percent or less–perhaps significantly less, in less publicized races–who bothered to vote, which suggests that these candidates’ actual appeal is–well, incredibly miniscule. Which brings up the next point:
Primaries are important, dammit. Many local politicians were elected before tonight even happened. Their real opposition, in this Democrat-dominated state, was other Democrats. Certainly, if you want choice aside from the far right, that choice is going to appear in the primaries. That’s become even more true since the advent of the non-partisan council election, where any candidate who pulls more than 50 percent of the votes of the people who bothered to vote in the primary doesn’t even have to face a Libertarian in the general; he or she is home free.
So you want change? You can have change, if you don’t just assume you can’t. It’s really simple: you register to vote, you pick good people to run, and then you vote for them in the primaries and vote for them in general elections. It’s simple, but not necessarily easy. But if you don’t, then I guarantee: if the one percent don’t run your government, the 30 percent will.