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Lack of hot races suggests voter turnout might lag

  • Video by Dennis Oda.

    The state Office of Elections conducted tests Saturday to ensure the votes for Tuesday's general election are counted correctly. Official observers conducted logic and accuracy tests of the vote-counting system at the state Capitol, which is the statewide counting center on election night and where mail-in ballots are tallied.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Precinct workers greeted voters this morning at McKinley High School.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Sign-holders waved to motorists late Monday afternoon along South Beretania and Punchbowl streets near the state Capitol.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    In preparation for voting day, Nedielyn Bueno from the Office of Elections prepared the ballots for the polling stations at the state Capitol.

This is one of the most exciting and suspenseful midterm elections in years on the mainland, but a lack of hotly contested local races suggests voter turnout could remain low in Hawaii today.

Statewide voter turnout has dropped dramatically in Hawaii since the 1980s and 1990s, and fewer than 39 percent of registered Hawaii voters turned out for the primary election in August.

Turnout is expected to improve somewhat in today’s general election, but a recent study by Wallet Hub concluded Hawaii is one of the least politically engaged states in the nation. That was based in part on Hawaii’s lack of interest in the 2016 presidential election, when the turnout by registered voters here was the lowest in the nation.

On the mainland, Republicans and Democrats this year are locked in fierce contests for control of the U.S. House and Senate, but there is little to get excited about here, said Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Part of the problem is that the Democrats so utterly dominate local politics, and the most exciting races of the year were decided in the Aug. 11 primary.

“Our democracy in some ways is a victim of the success of the Democratic Party in this state, because in most cases you don’t have competitive elections,” Moore said. “Even if you have Republican challengers, they can’t get the attention or command the resources that the Democrats have, and their numbers continue to dwindle.”

Today there are no Republicans left in the 25-member state Senate, and only five members of the GOP in the state House. The Republicans this year did not even field candidates in 33 of 51 state House seats and eight of the 13 Senate seats that were available.

Moore said that while polling data show that many voters in Hawaii don’t particularly love the ruling Democrats, “they feel stuck and frustrated because they’re not willing to vote for Republicans.”

On the ballot

At the top of the general election ticket, Republican state Rep. Andria Tupola is challenging Democratic Gov. David Ige, who is seeking a second four-year term. Ige clearly has the upper hand.

As of Oct. 22 Tupola had spent less than $450,000 on the statewide race, while Ige spent more than $2.88 million. Ige, who served for nearly three decades in the state House and Senate, is also more widely known than Tupola, who is finishing up her second two-year term in the state House.

There is little suspense in the races to represent Hawaii in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono appears to be coasting to an easy victory over Kauai Republican and retired systems engineer Ron Curtis. Hirono, a Democrat and former lieutenant governor who also served six years in the U.S. House, is seeking her second six-year term in the Senate.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, meanwhile, is seeking a fourth term representing rural Oahu and the neighbor islands as a Democrat in the House. Her opponent Brian Evans, an author and singer who lives in Kihei, Maui, has said he is running as a Republican in part to draw attention to the problem of medical errors in hospitals.

Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case hopes to return to Congress to represent urban Honolulu as a Democrat. Case served in the state House from 1994 to 2002 and in the U.S. House from 2002 to 2005. He is opposed by former state Rep. Cam Cavasso, a Republican and longtime financial adviser who served in the state House from 1985 to 1991.

The state has taken a number of steps to make voting easier today, but those haven’t yet sparked a major increase in turnout.

Most people who do vote in Hawaii now cast their ballots at their own convenience by using mail-in absentee voting or the walk-in absentee balloting process. During the August primary, 179,078 people voted absentee, which was nearly 63 percent of the total votes cast.

Hawaii now allows voters to both register and vote at their polling sites on Election Day. More than 2,000 Hawaii voters registered to vote on the day of the primary election this year.

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