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HOOSER: Who controls Hawaiʻi elections?

There’s really no mystery, no black box, no secret formula, and for sure there is no conspiracy. It’s all very simple and basic really – our government is controlled by the people who show up to vote.

There’s no magic to it all. The people who show up win.

49% of the votes in 2020 were literally left on the kitchen table. 388,058 legally registered voters who each received a ballot in the mail did not even bother to open the envelope, check a few boxes, and put it back in the mail so their votes would be counted.

David Ige defeated Colleen Hanabusa for governor in the 2018 primary election by only 16,941 votes. In that election, 454,827 registered voters failed to show up.

Governor Ige’s election was not the result of a conspiracy. He won because more people showed up to vote for him than those that showed up to vote for his opponent. Sure, the various interest groups (unions, business, progressives, conservatives, etc.) all conspired with their members and networks – encouraging them to vote for their endorsed candidate. But there was no pre-ordained or manipulated outcome controlled by Bill Gates, George Soros, or the Koch Brothers.

Yes, “big money” does exert an inappropriate amount of influence on our elections and should be controlled, minimized, and removed from the process. But the real culprit to be blamed for the dysfunctions within our government and political systems – are those people who don’t show up.

It’s called civic engagement and it requires a personal investment in time, energy and yes, sometimes money as well.

I get it. We are all busy. According to a Hawai‘i Community Foundation survey, 70% of us struggle financially to just pay our basic bills. We have children, grandchildren and parents to care for, and once in a while, we might like to go to the beach or read a book.

But is opening an envelope and checking a few boxes every two years too much to ask?

Please don’t complain about a lack of choices. From the mainstream to the extreme, there are a ton of choices.

A simple internet search will yield a wealth of information. The online media organization at probably has the most comprehensive statewide election information available. The Garden Island Newspaper will also soon be publishing candidate listings for the mayor and council races. In the interest of full disclosure – I’m the executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative (PHI) a statewide organization that endorses candidates for county, state, and federal races. But please don’t take my word for it, do a little bit of homework on your own, talk to your friends and neighbors. The information is there and it’s easy to find.

If you are registered to vote, on or about July 20 you will receive a ballot in your mailbox. Please take the time to open it, select the political party you most identify with and vote for the candidates of your choice. To be safe, I suggest you do this right away. If you are not registered to vote you can do so online here at the office of elections.

And let’s be real. Democrats overwhelmingly dominate the Hawai‘i political landscape. If history is any indicator, the vast majority of Democrats who win on August 13 will remain victorious after the General Election of November 4.

This is the hard truth and perhaps difficult for Republicans especially to understand, but nonetheless, it’s the truth. Consequently, the upcoming Primary election where Democrats are challenging Democrats is hugely important.

But for the people to win, we just gotta do a little bit of homework, Google around a bit, and then walk from our kitchen table to our mailbox – twice.

Those whose main interest is preserving the status quo are retirees’, establishment corporate interests, and organized labor – these folks vote. Low-income working people, the poor and underserved, the young, and the disenfranchised – typically do not vote.

This is why we have the government we have.

It’s not really that complicated.

Important Footnote: The upcoming election in which voting begins in two weeks and concludes on August 13 is the Primary Election. In the County and Office of Hawaiian Affairs section of the ballot, voters will vote in the nonpartisan section. For State and Federal races, voters must choose the political affiliation (political party) section on the ballot and vote ONLY for those candidates listed under that party affiliation section. A voter may not vote for a Democrat in one race and a Republican (or other party) in another race – casting votes for more than one political party in the Primary Election will void the ballot and your vote will not be counted.

In the November General Election, voters will then have an opportunity to choose between the various Primary Election winners.

This is why we have the government we have.


Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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