Many words could be used to describe the recent election including “hopeful” (the sheer number of candidates and the emergence of some young newcomers), “sleazy” (the Matt LoPresti video), “exhilarating” (the stump speech by Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez) and “sinister” (the sudden inflow of “dark” money into certain campaigns).

If I had to choose one word, however, it would undoubtedly be “pathetic.”

While not unexpected, it was disheartening that very few new candidates got elected or, in the case of the City Council contests, won enough votes for a runoff. This suggests how hard it is for those lacking money, name recognition or a strong base of supporters to gain any traction.

There were a number of candidates with fresh ideas who were not career politicians and many of whom came up from the grassroots. People like Ikaika Hussey, Zack Stodard, Kim Coco Iwamoto, Dave Burlew, Choon James and Natalie Iwasa. Yet not one of these candidates got through (although a few of them gathered a decent number of votes).

Campaign posters along Kamehameha Highway on Oahu’s North Shore.

Natanya Freidheim/Civil Beat

Einstein is said to have observed: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” This being the case, it is incredible and, yes, pathetic, that we continue to elect the same old cast of characters, many of whom have been ineffectual in dealing with the most pressing issues we face.

Isn’t some fresh thinking long overdue? What’s a forward-thinking person to do? Vote Republican? Oh, no, how could I vote for someone who is probably beholden to Trump, perhaps a spineless hypocrite and possibly even an unhinged right winger?

And How About That Turnout Rate?

This sad lack of options is probably linked to the even bigger aspect of the election that I would call pathetic: the low voter turnout.

Turnout was only 38.6 percent of registered voters. Not as low as 2016, but still abysmally low. Moreover, it’s worse than it sounds. The total turnout of 286,041 voters means that only a little more than a quarter of Hawaii’s voting age population actually bothered to vote.

The obvious question is: Where were the other 75 percent of voting age adults? Did they not vote out of a belief that their vote doesn’t count? Every vote counts. And this is particularly true in close local elections.

Voting is not only a duty, it’s also a privilege.

Was it complacency? Were these disappearing voters simply too lazy to go to a polling place or send in their mail ballots? Personally, after spending most of my adult life living overseas and only being able to send in absentee ballots, I was very excited to go to an actual polling place, pleased to be treated so courteously by the charming Office of Elections staff in their comely smocks, and delighted to get free parking in front of Honolulu Hale. The whole process only took a few minutes.

Maybe non-voting was caused by confusion? There was certainly a gaggle of candidates flocking to many of the races. Even educated working people I know professed to finding it difficult to keep track of who was running for what, much less where they stood on the issues. Nonetheless, in the age of the internet, information is only one swipe away, and Civil Beat’s own fine coverage certainly helped save hours of internet research.

Perhaps the lack of participation in the democratic process is the result of frustration or its more toxic cousin, despair. Many people may have simply given up on the political process and politicians. If this is the case, we’re in even deeper trouble than we think.

Whatever the cause of this lack of engagement, someone should do some research to find out what’s going on and what can be done to improve the situation. If, as I suspect, the turnout among young people was particularly low, that does not bode well for the future of democracy or, indeed, the future of this state.

Voting is not only a duty, it’s also a privilege. Moreover, even when the results are not what we hoped for, it’s still a pleasure to exercise this right.

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