Election Day options
August 12, 2002
By Jan Ten Bruggencate
Hawaiíi's winner-take-all elections may be one reason
for low voter turnout, and radically new ways of setting up
elections could re-energize voter turnout, some political theorists
On the other hand, radically different kinds of
elections could erode public trust in the voting process, and
actually reduce participation, others say.
Small groups of political scientists are studying
examples of such techniques as cumulative voting, proportional
voting and instant runoffs.
Such alternative systems are viewed in some circles as
ways to give voters more control over the results of an election -
and herefore a way to interest more voters into showing up at the
"Almost any other system is an improvement over our
winner-take-all system," said Steven Hill, western regional director
for the Center for Voting and Democracy.
But all of those systems require new, more complex
counting mechanisms and could be counterproductive because they can
be difficult to understand, said University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu
history professor Dan Boylan.
"I think that you must have the confidence of the
people in the voting system," he said.
Boylan said he would support an instant runoff, which
would not allow a candidate to be elected without a majority of
In a race for one seat with more than two candidates,
a voter would rank his candidates. If his favorite candidate is the
last-place candidate in first-choice voting, his second choice is
In examples used by those proposing the system, an
instant runoff might have changed the outcomes of the 1992 and 2000
In 1992, Bill Clinton won with less than a majority
over George Bush Sr. and Ross Perot. But if third-place Perot's
voters had overwhelmingly selected Bush as their second choice, he
could have ended up with a majority of the votes in an instant
Similarly, in 2000, if most of third-place Ralph
Nader's voters had selected Al Gore as their second choice, he could
have won the election without the unpleasantness of Florida's
As it ended up, the instant runoff folks say, in both
1992 and 2000, the people got the candidate who got the most
electoral votes, but who was voted against by a substantial majority
of American voters.
Another benefit of the instant runoff system is that
people would not feel a vote for their favorite candidate would be
wasted, said University of Hawai'i political science professor
"It would have increased the Nader vote. There still
would have been another chance. It gives people a chance to vote
their conscience and then to back themselves up," he said.
State elections administrator Dwayne Yoshina said he
likes the idea, but lacks the power to implement it. That would take
either action by the state Legislature or a constitutional
convention, he said.
"The law says the person with the largest number of
votes will prevail," Yoshina said.
Other alternative systems include:
Choice voting . This system can be
used in multiseat elections. Here is one way it can work:
If there are five candidates for two seats, and no one
gets enough first-place votes to win outright on the first round,
then the fifth-place candidate is eliminated and on ballots listing
him or her first, the second-choice candidate votes are added to the
remaining candidates. At this point, if no candidate has enough
votes, then the fourth-place candidate is eliminated and his or her
second-place votes are applied to the top three. It doesn't matter
how many candidates or seats there are. The process continues until
successful candidates are selected.
Cumulative voting . This system,
which would work in multiseat districts, allows the voter to cast as
many votes as there are seats open in a race, and to vote them all
for one candidate, or spread around a few favored candidates.
For instance, this year there are 29 candidates for
the Kaua'i County Council's seven seats, all running at large. As it
stands now, Kaua'i voters can vote for seven or fewer candidates,
each time only once. Under a cumulative voting system, Kaua'i voters
would have seven votes to use as they see fit, even if one or two
candidates get all the votes.
This system gives minority candidates a better chance
of being elected, supporters argue. Minority groups can concentrate
their voting strength on a few candidates, and ensure they will have
a voice in the body. Cumulative voting is commonly used in
shareholder voting for members of boards of directors, to ensure
that minority shareholders can have a voice on the board.
Hill uses the example of Amarillo, Texas, where 60
percent of the population is white, and neither blacks nor Hispanics
had ever been represented on the local school board until cumulative
voting was established.
In the first election after cumulative voting, one
African-American and one Latino were elected, Hill said.
Related voting systems are in place in other
communities in Texas, Alabama, Illinois and Massachusetts.
Instead of candidates focusing their attention only on
a small group of centrist undecided voters, these voting systems
require them to talk to all the voters, and "voters can feel more
connection to the candidates," Hill said.
Boylan has other suggestions, such as allowing someone
who shows up to the polls to vote without registering beforehand. He
believes people should receive a tax credit for voting and a tax
penalty for not voting. He also suggested that voting be made
mandatory and those who don't vote would face a fine.
But Boylan said he despairs of some of these changes
getting through the Legislature, because they can threaten
legislators who benefit from limiting electors to those who put them
"You'll never get significant capital spending reform
or significant changes in election policies in an elected
legislature. They won't do it. It threatens their jobs," he said.
A constitutional convention might be able to make the
changes, he said. And if it did, and there were increases in voting
by the young, poor and undereducated - people who rarely vote now -
things would change, he said.
How to register to vote:
To register to vote, you need to fill out and send in
a voter registration affidavit.
You will find one in any Verizon phone book, and on
O'ahu in the 2002 Paradise Pages. Just tear it out or make a copy.
Forms are kept at all City or County Clerk's offices,
U.S. Post Offices, public libraries and many state offices. There's
a copy in the State of Hawai'i tax booklet. You also can register
when you apply for or renew your driver's license. The form can be
downloaded from the State Office of Elections Web page.
Deadlines for registering to vote in the 2002
elections are Aug. 22 for the primary election and Oct. 7 for the
Aug. 22: Last day to register to vote for the Primary
Sept. 9: Walk-in absentee polling places open for
Primary Election. They close Sept. 19.
Sept. 13: Last day to request absentee mail-in ballots
for Primary Election
Sept. 21: Primary Election
Oct. 7: Last day to register to vote for General
Oct. 22: Walk-in absentee polling places open for
General Election. They close Nov. 2.
Oct. 29: Last day to request absentee mail-in ballots
for General Election
Nov. 5: General Election
For special assistance or more information call the
state Office of Elections at (808) 453-VOTE