Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of stories examining Hawaii’s low voter participation rates. Read previous stories in the series as well as other initiatives Civil Beat is undertaking to understand why people don’t vote.

Kahala caucus/ senior citizen

If you wanted to design a community where voter turnout would be high, you would probably want to follow these tips from the U.S. Census Bureau.

• Likelihood of voting increases with age, so your model community would have more older residents.

• Likelihood of voting goes up with education, so the community should have above-average education, with more who have graduated from college or received post-graduate degrees.

• People with higher incomes are more likely to vote, so your community should have a high average income.

• Home ownership and length of residence make a big difference, so you would want to see more long-time residents living in their own homes.

The same advice comes from other experts, like Neal Milner, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii and a well-known political analyst.

“People who are more educated are more likely to vote,” Milner told Civil Beat. “People who have more money are more likely to vote than working class or blue collar people. And older people are more likely to vote than younger people.”

“People who have a sense of efficacy, of being able to effect the political process, are also more likely to vote,” Milner added. “All of this seems to be tied into socio-economic status.”

Milner pointed to another key factor — competitive elections — which tend to mobilize candidates, political parties and communities.

With these factors in mind, it should come as no surprise that three contiguous election districts on Oahu, stretching from Hawaii Kai to Diamond Head, had the highest voter turnout in the state during the 2010 elections.

It’s an area of nice homes, stable neighborhoods, active community organizations and competitive politics. High voter turnout is part of the package.

Leading the way with 66.9 percent voter turnout in 2010 was House District 18, which runs from Hahaione Valley through Kuliouou and Niu Valley, Aina Haina, Wailupe, and part of Kahala.

Close behind, both with 66.3 percent of registered voters turning out to vote, were District 19 (Waialae Iki, Kalani Valley, Waialae Nui, Diamond Head, Kahala), and District 17 (Kalama Valley, through Hawaii Kai).

These were the only three districts in the state that had turnout exceeding 66 percent.

It’s the demographics, stupid!

The area, along the coast and up the valleys along the southeast side of Oahu, is like a “perfect storm” of conditions associated with high rates of voting, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which now includes East Honolulu as a “census defined place.”

East Honolulu is, in some ways, the mirror opposite of the highly transient districts in South and West Maui, where the extremely mobile population contributed to the state’s lowest voter turnouts.

By contrast, East Honolulu is anchored by long-time residents, many living in the same place for many decades, often in multi-generational households and sharing a commitment to the area built over years.

Aina Haina is right in the middle of District 18, and representative of the broader area. Attorney Wayson Chow, president of the Aina Haina Community Association, attributes the high voter turnout to basic demographics, and to a long history of community participation in the democratic process.

“East Oahu has had a history of active participation, community decision making, legislative lobbying and extensive interactions between elected officials and residents,” Chow said.

“We’re reliant on basic services, from stream cleaning to boulder remediation, from bus service to the library, so government is important,” he said. “And when somebody in government isn’t doing their job, we’re very vocal about it.”

For example, it was volunteers from the Friends of the Aina Haina Public Library who are credited with pushing through legislation this year to allow them to continue a 50-year tradition of raising funds for their local library, despite opposition from the State Librarian and the main Friends of the Library of Hawaii organization.

Chow also pointed to the stability of the East Honolulu community.

“We take pride in that,” he said. “This has become a desirable area for children and grandchildren to move back into, living near their parents or grandparents. It’s a place not only to grow up in, but to grow old in.”

Chow’s assessment is backed up by statistics from the 2010 census and the 2006-2010 American Community Survey.

Age: The median age in East Honolulu is 47.2 years, 22 percent higher than the state median of 38.6 years. Persons 65 years and older make up 21 percent of the East Honolulu population, compared to just 14.3 percent for the state as a whole.

Chow said retirees and residents over age 45 are the backbone of their active community association.

“It’s really hard for young families to find any time for community activities, except their children’s own activities, when you’re struggling to pay the mortgage plus tuition,” he said.

Education: More than half of those over age 25 have bachelor’s degrees or higher (53.6 percent), nearly twice the state average (29.4 percent).

Income: Median household income was $108,032, compared to a statewide average of $66,420. Nearly one-third of East Honolulu households (29 percent) made $150,000 or more. On the other end of the income scale, just 3.2 percent of residents were below the poverty level; the statewide rate is 9.6 percent.

Home ownership: The home ownership rate was 83.4 percent, substantially above the state average of 59.3 percent. Nearly one-third of owner-occupied homes were owned free and clear, without any mortgage (30.8 percent). Eight out of every 10 homes are owner-occupied, with rentals comprising only 16.6 percent.

Length of residence: More than half of the families in the East Honolulu CDP have lived in their present home for more than 20 years, according to census estimates. Nearly one-quarter (23.9 percent) have been there for 40 years or more.

Greg Kashiwa grew up in the area and has lived most of his life in the same spot along Kalanianaole Highway.

“The people that live here, especially in our area, are multigenerational,” Kashiwa said. “They have lived here for so long, their houses contain more than one generation, ohana housing, and that kind of thing.”

“When that happens, the kids become more attuned to the community,” Kashiwa said. “They’re not afraid to come out and be heard, or support their parents or grandparents.”

The area is the closest to a Republican stronghold for heavily Democratic Hawaii, represented in the state Senate by that body’s only Republican, Sen. Sam Slom.

House districts represented by longtime Republican state representatives, Barbara Marumoto and Gene Ward, bookmark the East Honolulu area. Between them is District 18, a swing district, represented by a freshman Democrat, Mark Hashem.

Amy Monk, a Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board member and a member of the Democratic Party’s Oahu County Committee, said the strong Republican presence “gets the Democrats out at election time.”

But she also noted that even though her area is more active in party affairs than the average district, it still lags mainland areas “where people are so active in politics and in campaigns.”

“We don’t see that much in Hawaii,” Monk said.

Absentee voting provided a major boost to voter turnout in all three East Honolulu districts.

Election statistics show half of all votes in the East Honolulu area were cast via absentee ballots in the 2010 General Election. Absentee ballots accounted for an average of 50.3 percent of all ballots cast in the three East Honolulu districts, putting them among those districts making the highest use of absentee voting.

Absentee voting used to be restricted to people who had a valid reason for being unable to go to the polls on election day. However, Hawaii has now eliminated most of those restrictions, and absentee voting is now available to any registered voter on request. Voters can also sign up for permanent absentee voting, and all future ballots will be mailed to them. In addition, registered voters can vote early by walking in to selected polling places in the two weeks leading up to election day.

Interestingly, the districts in South and West Maui with the state’s lowest overall voter turnout were also near the bottom in use of absentee ballots, with only 24 percent voting absentee.

Ian Lind is a veteran political reporter and longtime Hawaii investigative journalist who blogs at iLind.net.