Go vote this weekend! This Saturday is Primary Election Day. It’s a biennial event in Maui County, and we only get to choose from an unrestrained field of local characters vying for the titles of mayor and governor every four years. It’s a magical time when a “bamboo water peace pipe” builder can share the stage with a man mysteriously aliased “Mr. L”, and we can watch bong-guy attack a former activist for… what, exactly? (He was rambling there, was it really for her use of “mana wahine”?)
Anyway, despite having lower voter turnout than winner-takes-all general elections, primary elections are where we can vote for our dreams. I recently heard someone describe elections as “choosing the shiniest turd,” and, yeah, I get it, especially after the last presidential election. But this situation, where voters are left to hold their noses and choose between two immensely disliked candidates, can be avoided by active primary election participation. Consider that nationwide voter turnout during 2016’s primary was only 29 percent. In Hawai‘i, a pitiful 4.6 percent of the voting-eligible population voted in 2016 primaries. If non-voters organized and educated, imagine what could be possible.
We desperately need civic participation in Hawai‘i, which, despite tremendous pressures on the quality of life of residents, has the unfortunate distinction of ranking dead last in voter turnout during the last election. It wasn’t always this way. In 1959 the turnout of registered voters in Maui County was 94 percent in the general and 88 percent in the primary. Somewhere, maybe, we lost the sense that our vote matters.
But it does. The mayor’s race matters. County council races matter. The mayor crafts the near-$800 million county budget. The council of nine makes decisions on a five-vote majority, and a single councilmember can shift the balance that determines the kinds of housing we have on Maui, the types of industries and non-profits we embrace, the fate of our environment and tourism, and how we treat sacred sites and the vulnerable among us.
There are signs that things might be looking up. “As of Saturday, August 6, 2016, we had 892 individuals vote at one of our early walk-in voting sites,” Deputy County Clerk Josiah Nishita told me, “as compared to 1,443 this year.”
Keep it up, Maui. Polls are open from 7am to 6pm on Saturday, August 11. You can learn about your polling place, voter registration, and your ballot at Elections.hawaii.gov, and about the candidates through MauiTime’s Walk Story series at Mauitime.com/walkstory.