It’s surprising that so many people vote in Hawaii, rather than so few.
A familiar low-turnout scolding here goes, “no vote no grumble.”
It may be fairer to say, “no vote no shame.”
Because when you come right down to it, there is almost no reason for people in Hawaii to vote in the 2018 mid-terms.
Gov David Ige gets a cosmetic touch-up before his Monday night debate with state Rep. Andria Tupola, his Republican challenger who is far behind in the polls.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Georgia has an amazing governor’s race that’s too close to call. Same with Wisconsin. Nationally, there are crucial congressional races that will likely determine which party controls the House of Representatives.
Citizens are not all that attentive to or informed about what politicians are actually doing.
More significantly, research has shown that over time there is almost no link between what people want and what Congress does or who it listens to.
Overall there are good reasons to be, as I am, a voter change-denier.
Other reasons for voting are less rational than emotional. They are about faith, and like lots of things involving faith, empirical evidence supporting the power of that faith may be beside the point. Example: the cornerstone argument itself.
That’s OK and even important, but it does make you consider democracy in a very different, less highfalutin way.
Here are some other reasons why people vote. They vote because over the years they have become attached to politics. They believe it makes a difference in their lives.
That is a key reason why older people are more likely to vote than young people.
People vote because others they know or respect do. One of the best ways to increase voter turnout is to tell a person that your neighbors vote and, as a little psychological frosting one the cake, tell them that information on whether they voted or not will be conveyed to the neighbors after the election.
And of course people vote because they are enthusiastic and/or angry. They see that they can effectively channel their anger by voting, often because their elections are competitive.
And that’s definitely not Hawaii in 2018.
And yet there I’ll be Tuesday at Niu Intermediate in line with the other old folks in shorts and slippers and parents with their young kids in tow waiting to cast my ballot.
Voting is a habit that’s engrained in me. If I did not vote, I would feel guilty, maybe even bereft. I probably would not tell my friends, all of whom are likely to cast a ballot.
That’s partially because despite my skepticism about the workings of democracy, I am still attached to voting’s rituals — like a person of religious faith whose clergy has done monstrously sad, awful things but who still believes in the ultimate power of the rituals of her church.
Voting is an act for me the same way I think prayer is — muddling and ambivalent, but I won’t or can’t let go.
Voting may not be a cornerstone, but for me it is an important ritual of democracy
That’s OK. But like other rituals, it is tempting to conflate belief in the power of voting with truth about its power.
There are ways to make America more democratic: limiting the influence of big money; reducing polarization; changing congressional rules to reduce the power of a few extremists.
As well as reducing economic inequality, because there is a powerful link between that and political inequality.
But first off, you need to understand that the conventional myths about democracy and voting interfere with meeting those challenges.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
A note to our readers
While asking for your support is something we don’t like to do, the simple fact is that our reporters, our journalism, and our impact rely on it. Since lifting our paywall and becoming a nonprofit in mid-2016, our local newsroom has benefitted from a stream of charitable support from people who want our type of journalism to survive. People like you who understand that our work is essential to a better-informed community. If you value the work of our journalists, show us with your tax-deductible support.
Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.