Mauka to Makai

Mauka to Makai
Political signs drape every street corner, but figuring out how to vote takes more than a drive-by.
Image: Wanda A. Adams

Political Newbies Get Into the Know

Struggling Through Election Season 101

Mauka to Makai / A friend was in town from Maui last month and as we drove about, we noted the the campaign posters, sign wavers, supporters making shaka, candidates draped with lei.

(Tulsi Gabbard, by the way, has harked back to the Ariyoshi-era double red carnation lei, a nostalgic nudge for those old enough to remember bygone customs. What next, campaign rallies? Those were “good fun,” with children circulating through the crowd handing out political materials murmuring, “Please kokua my grandfather,” plus music, hula and food, the candidates all introducing their “lovely wives”–nobody had an unlovely one, and only a few women were in office.)

I mentioned I had got a personally signed postcard from State House candidate Takashi Ohno and we speculated about how bad his writer’s cramp must be if he’s writing to every prospective voter in the state House 27th district (Nuuanu, Puunui, Liliha, ‘Alewa Heights).

We sneered at the signs of one candidate we both particularly dislike and I mimed running the sign down, both of us laughing hysterically.

But then we got serious: “Who are you voting for?,” she asked. “Who’s running?,” I asked. She gave me an “Are you SERIOUS?” look.

I reminded her that I grew up in a political family. I long ago had my fill of campaigns, debates, fundraising, smoke and loud-talking men in our living room, carting lei around in coolers night after night, posturing and ho’omalimali.

Pres. candidate George McGovern broke my heart in the ‘70s; Pres. Bill Clinton broke it with “Don’t ask, don’t tell” some years later and I have steered clear ever since. I vote, but usually I’m reading the newspaper election guide as I wait in the polling line.

This year is different. I’m re-entering the world of conscious citizenhood. I thought it would be easy to get the basic information I needed and then make some decisions.

My friend and I looked forward to discussing which races we’d be voting in on our separate islands, which candidates we wouldn’t vote for no matter what and therefore could safely ignore, which young entrants seem promising. But we realized we didn’t know enough.

And so, that day, we sat down with my laptop to find who was running against who, in what party, for what seats, who presently held the seat and whether they were or were not running and, if not, why not.

This last proved to be harder than it sounds. Candidate websites don’t mention their opponents at all, for obvious but, I think, short-sighted reasons. So, if you didn’t happen to get the triangulated picture, how would you know that former Gov. Ben Cayetano and Kirk Caldwell are running for the Honolulu mayoral office held by Peter Carlisle, who aims to keep it?

If you only look at political signage, vital data is often missing: whether they’re allied with a particular party, which neighborhood and voting precinct they cover, or whether it’s a statewide race. Much signage blasts only the candidate’s name and the office for which they’re running. You’re supposed to know whether it’s statewide or district-specific, whether they’re a Republican or Democrat or something else and in which precinct you vote. Yeah, right. Many citizens didn’t even know until last week, when the yellow precinct cards arrived in the mail, if their district had changed.

According to my search engine history, it took us 100 hits on 25 different Web sites and a solid 90 minutes to answer our most pressing questions. And neither of us is stupid or inexperienced at web searching. We’re probably in the high average; not techies or trained researchers but I’m a veteran reporter and she’s an R.N. with a zillion outside interests who trolls the web like an offshore fishing factory ship.

We did find the basics at [hawaii.gov] By clicking on “2012 Statewide Candidate Report,” we had an up-to-the-minute list of every person who had filed for office in every active race, their party affiliation and district number–the latter complicated, this year, by redistricting.

This answered some key questions: which districts or offices are not in the running this election season (such as governor and lieutenant governor) and who has filed for office in each district. This site is kept up to date; as the filing deadline of June 5 was a few days out when we were doing our search, we knew more names might appear.

However, we still had to figure out our specific voting needs. We rooted around in various council and legislative sites to figure out what the District numbers were for my home in Pu’uhala (above Kalihi) and hers in Kaupakalua (near Haiku on Maui) and which races were statewide.

We had to search local media sites to figure out who was vacating which seats and for what reason. (Who is running for Maizie’s old seat? Who is running for Gabbard’s seat; will she have to quit the City Council or was her term up? Are these stupid questions?)

We ran up against clunky or useless search functions on websites (if any at all); a lack of perceptive and contextual reporting from the media on all but the “big” seats; sites that were party-specific and therefore suspect, and almost no attention paid to “genealogical” issues (who used to hold which seat, and where they went).

This is transparency? This is creating an informed voter base?

It should not be this hard to get these answers. I’m not sure whose kuleana it is to provide this information. But I wonder how many people would give up an hour and a half on a sunny Saturday morning to find it.

I emailed candidate Ohno and mentioned the difficulty my friend and I encountered. He wrote back: “The lack of unbiased information on candidates is unfortunate. In the state of California, they have a voters’ guide ([voterguide.sos.ca.gov].) similar to what you described.”

Good for the Golden Bear state. Should the Aloha State lag behind?