By David Lichtenstein
The yard sign in the homestead area of Kapa’akea says it all: “Voting is my Kuleana.”
Most Hawaiians, however, do not share this feeling. In the 2010 general election, out of 4,049 registered voters on Molokai spread across four topside Molokai precincts, a meager 35 percent of them voted. Maui County had 49.7 percent of its 85,223 registered voters turn out compared to 55.7 percent statewide.
Turnout is always worse in primary elections. As expected, low numbers were recorded at the polling places in this year’s August primary. On Molokai, 20.8 percent of the registered voters showed up compared to 30.6 percent across Maui County. These numbers are fairly consistent with primary voting numbers from 2010 — 20.75 percent on Molokai, 34.2 percent in Maui County. This means only 818 people on Molokai voted in the 2010 primary.
There was more than 818 adults at a pa’ina in Kalamaula a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday’s Taste of Molokai event expected around 1,000 people. I’ve seen more than a thousand people at Take’s lucky number drawing.
So why don’t people show up on Election Day?
The political apathy on Molokai can seem paradoxical. Why would people on an island that cares so passionately about protection of its ‘aina and culture not show up to vote?
A lack of local candidates might be part of the reason. But Kanoho Helm running for a State Senate seat didn’t seem to create a stronger turnout.
It is a complex question. Some people don’t vote because they live off the grid and ask for nothing from the government. Some of these people don’t trust the county, state or federal government and have friends and ohana with similar feelings.
While there are some people who just don’t know enough to vote, most 18 year olds have learned about the basic civic duties of being a United States citizen. But just because some teacher lectured you about voting, or you read about voting in a textbook, doesn’t mean you HAVE to vote.
Kuleana is a transitive verb carrying multiple meanings. In general it is thought of as a person’s rights, privileges and responsibilities. In Hawaiian culture it also denotes ownership, claim or interest as it relates to property and family. Within the ahupua’a system this was an extremely important concept. In modern society personal kuleana is still strongly felt within the ohana but not so much within the broader community. What has the government and its bureaucracies done for me lately?
I would like to see more people vote so that more of the people who grumble can be heard. If Molokai citizens suddenly turned out to vote in large numbers our collective voice would become more powerful on all levels. Don’t vote and don’t be surprised when state and county politicians stop caring about your opinion.
On Tuesday there will be three Molokai candidates running for important positions. Stacy Helm Crivello will be facing Manuwai Peters for Danny Mateo’s seat on the Maui County Council. No matter who wins it will be the first time in over 10 years that a representative on the council will have a Molokai address.
In a statewide election Walter Ritte is running for at-large candidate for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Ritte has formerly served as a trustee with OHA, and for the last three decades, he has fought for the protection of Hawaii’s most valued and fragile resources. Whether or not you agree with the methods or motives of his activism, he has fought to preserve a certain Molokai way of life that is still highly treasured by many kanaka maoli.
If you think you are registered but do not know what precinct you are registered in, visit the state of Hawaii Office of Elections polling locator online. If you have moved or changed your name since the last election call 800-442-8683 from Molokai or any neighbor island.
See you at the voting booth on Tuesday.