Campaign Corner: Let's Respect The Electoral Process — And The Candidates Who Make It Work - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Tracy Ryan

Tracy Ryan is executive director of Harm Reduction Hawaii, a non-profit whose mission is to educate and promote the use of harm reduction approaches to solving social problems, such as addiction and homelessness. Ryan has more than 20 years of experience working with persons in the sex industry, their problems and the law.

We have heard endlessly from members of the media, as well as some good government groups, about the need to increase voter turnout.  The single-minded focus on this issue has deflected attention from the underlying issues that are important in the democratic process. Simply mailing out ballots to make sure it is easy to vote is no substitute for having an informed electorate voting on viable choices.

Few voters seem to have much appreciation for the time and effort citizens put into running for office, often against daunting odds. Media can be very dismissive of these efforts, making it even harder to get voters to pay attention.

Let’s be clear: Without people who are willing to become candidates and run against the formidable power of the incumbents, there is no election.  All the banter about getting out the votes is just silly at that point.

In this election, the ballots were mailed almost a month before election-day. Advertisements urging people to vote early have been popping up.  Yet voting smart is more important than voting early.

As a voter, you should respect the process and the people asking for your vote.  You shouldn’t become irate because a candidate calls you, texts you or sends you an email.  These are legitimate communications.

Running for office is a lot of hard work. It requires putting in time and effort, raising an adequate amount of money and offering voters a choice. It is particularly difficult when media is dismissive of all but a few well-funded candidates.

Showing every candidate basic respect and listening to them before deciding how to cast your vote is much more supportive of democracy than simply voting for a name that sounds familiar, for a person with a bigger budget or by party affiliation.

Ever wonder why some folks you have never heard of before show up to run with piles of money behind them? Maybe you should be wary of such people and question who their funders are.  The underfunded candidate may be a better choice.

Candidates for public office must devote significant time and effort to campaigning and fundraising — and without them, there wouldn’t be anyone for the public to vote for. Allan Parachini/Civil Beat/2020

You should also be careful about information that circulates attacking or opposing a candidate. It may not be true or even relevant. Sometimes you see such things on TV. Other times, it’s a whisper campaign.

You shouldn’t vote until you know something about the people who are running. That includes folks running for the state legislature, city council and other offices below the top presidential, senate or governor’s races.  You can get information from door hangers, bulk mailers, candidate websites or by calling or emailing their campaigns.

Contact information for every candidate is available at the Office of Elections website. There are published sources such as the League of Women Voters guide called Vote 411. There is also Project Vote Smart online.  Civil Beat has published survey answers from a lot of candidates in Hawaii which are archived on the site.

In the last half century most states have adopted statutory barriers aimed at limiting candidates to those of the two major parties. Various other laws and policies exist that also tend to favor incumbents.

As a voter, you should not put up with this.  These laws and practices not only disempower those who challenge the system, they disempower the voters by denying them more and often better choices. In many states, candidates or parties are required to obtain tens of thousands of signatures in a short period of time. The incumbents often challenge the validity of the signatures or other technicalities leading to court fights. Look up what happened to Kayne West.

We have fewer rules in Hawaii, but we still have laws that tend to keep independent candidates out of our legislative races. One did make it to the general election this year, but that almost never happens. Add these problems to the hard work that it takes to run even as a partisan challenger and you have a bad mix. It allows incumbents to be re-elected over and over again despite the many problems faced by our state that they have not fixed.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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About the Author

Tracy Ryan

Tracy Ryan is executive director of Harm Reduction Hawaii, a non-profit whose mission is to educate and promote the use of harm reduction approaches to solving social problems, such as addiction and homelessness. Ryan has more than 20 years of experience working with persons in the sex industry, their problems and the law.

Latest Comments (0)

Tracy's comments about knowing the candidates reminds me to thank CB again for their in depth Q&A with everyone running for office.

Robo · 2 years ago

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