CNN Calls Hawaii 'The State That Doesn't Vote,' But What If That Changed?

Getting Hawaii out of the registered voter basement.


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Who would benefit if more young people voted?

Rosenlee says the biggest beneficiaries would be the young voters themselves. The state budget allocates more for programs that support seniors than those that support children –reflecting the reality that kupuna vote and keiki don't. “There are more children in poverty than senior citizens and it almost correlates exactly to the exact amount we spend on social security and free health care,” he said. “That’s not necessarily the same for young people.”

If young people voted, Rosenlee thinks college would be free. If they lowered the voting age to 16, teenage voters could demand better schools. But, he points out, “Politicians don’t feel like they have to cater to the young demographic because they don’t vote. There’s no need to fix our schools if our children don’t vote.”

Along those lines, Ing explained that you rarely see political candidates outside of Long’s Drugs shaking hands because they don’t know if those customers even vote. Candidates are going door-to-door, and it’s not every door. They’re targeting the homes of registered voters.

Ing thinks that if young voters came out, there might be positive changes to student debt and college tuition. As a progressive Democrat, he expects that if other young people supported the same sorts of causes, we’d see more equality measures like same-sex marriage or pay equity. “There could be a shift in understanding of social issues if young people are out in front of those things,” he says.

He also points out, “You give one-third of your income to the government (through taxes). If it takes one-third of your day to vote, that’s you helping decide where that money goes.”

Fukumoto says that many believe her party—the Republicans—would be the losers if more young people voted. But she disagrees. “Most young people are not tied to a political party—less tied to the constructs of a party. They’re more interested in what needs to be done,” she says.

“They just want to see you be able to work together and solve a problem with any political party,” she added.

Hart looked at the issue a little differently, focusing on the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Brian Schatz and Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa. Some polls show Schatz slightly ahead, some show them about even given the margin of error, and a Civil Beat poll Hart referred to showed them in a dead heat. Reporter Chad Blair wrote, “Both candidates do well among female voters and voters over 50 years of age, but Hanabusa does better than Schatz among males and voters under 50. That may confuse pundits who say this race is generational or about gender.”

At 41, many would expect Schatz to resonate more with men and younger voters than 63-year-old Hanabusa.

How can we get more young people to vote?

In 2008, Hawaii’s Democratic caucuses were huge social affairs, with thousands showing up to support Hawaii-born Barack Obama. But by the time election day rolled around, the young people who showed up at the caucuses sat out the general election. “A caucus is a party, it’s exciting,” Hart said. “Standing in line at an elementary school for 20 minutes, then standing in a little thing with a curtain by yourself isn’t a social event.”

Ing described how some of his friends turn voting into a social activity. They all get absentee mail ballots, watch the debates together, analyze the candidates, then fill out their ballots and send them in.

But Ing did something even more significant this session. He got a bill passed that would allow election-day registration. If the governor signs it into law, the first phase will be implemented during the 2016 election cycle and the whole state would have same-day voting in 2018. You can read more about that here.

Steven Olikara of the national Millennial Action Project was traveling and couldn’t be reached, but sent along this statement on getting young people to vote:

The Millennial Generation is idealistic and solutions-focused. But our current political system is gridlocked and stagnant—that pushes many young people away from politics. Yet, it's worth noting that about 23 million young people voted in 2012. The 18-29 year-olds actually outvoted seniors 19 percent to 17 percent. The bigger challenge is getting young people to vote in the non-presidential elections. I believe the solution to that is giving us a compelling reason to vote. Who in public office is working pragmatically to create a better future for us? That's why I believe we need to cultivate and mobilize a new generation of young, dynamic, future-focused political leaders who are delivering results. That's a big part of what we're doing at the Millennial Action Project. 


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Honolulu Magazine February 2020
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