The 34.7 percent voter turnout for Hawaii’s primary election was the lowest since statehood in 1959, prompting U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz to suggest that a Saturday in August “might not be the best time to hold a primary.”

Schatz was among several people lamenting the low turnout at Sunday’s Democratic Party “unity breakfast” in Honolulu.

“This is totally the Legislature’s kuleana, but they might want to think of moving toward all mail-in voting,” Schatz said. “When Oregon did that, you saw the turnout grow significantly.”

Lunalilo Elementary School polling location with a lone voter. District 21 Precinct 04
A lone voter completes a ballot Saturday at Lunalilo Elementary School. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The prior record for voter apathy in the islands was set in 2008, when 36.9 percent of voters participated in the primary.

In the 2014 primary, voter turnout was 41.5 percent, according to the Elections Office.

That was also the first time that more people voted by mail or early walk-in instead of on primary election day.

Generally, the feeling among many Democrats at the Sunday breakfast event was that the lack of high-profile, competitive races — besides the contest for Honolulu mayor — might have been partially to blame.

“I was shocked and really disappointed,” said state Rep. Calvin Say, a Democrat and former House speaker who represents Palolo, Kaimuki and St. Louis Heights.

Tim Vandeveer, the party chair, said the public may be feeling “campaign fatigue” with the “all the hubbub” surrounding the presidential election.

“I think it is due in part also to the primacy of the Democratic Party in Hawaii, and I think it is also due in part to a frustration among the electorate,” Vandeveer said. “And we as a party have to address the latter in order to remain a vibrant, relevant force for positive change in this community.”

State lawmakers have introduced several measures to remedy low turnout over the years, including bills to make voting mandatory, switch to an all-mail voting system and establish automatic voter registration with the receipt of a Hawaii ID. None has gained enough traction to become law.

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