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Practical and impractical politics
September 1, 2014 - Harry Eagar
It is perhaps unfair to criticize the Arabs, with an unbroken political history of straightup despotism, for spoiling their attempts at democracy, considering that with our two centuries of experience, we still haven’t figured out the simplest things. Three current local examples:
THE PUNA VOTE
This one raises questions that it would take a lot of effort to answer.
The immediate case is only mildly troubling. The Hawaii Supreme Court decided the appeal narrowly, merely saying the statute did not give it review jurisdiction, or that some of the complainants did not have standing. No doubt, if it had thought the outstanding issues were really important, it could have found a way.
In this case, there was only the smallest chance that the Puna votes could have swung the Democratic senatorial primary. To win, Colleen Hanabusa would have needed about 65% of all the votes if all the registered voters who had not voted early did vote. While she did about that well in her home area, she got less than half the votes in Hawaii County.
I do not know anything about local Big Island politics, so cannot speculate about what the missing votes could have meant in local Puna races.
People allegedly trapped by hurricane debris were not totally disenfranchised; they had had the option of voting earlier (though not of deciding to do so after the prospect of the hurricane became evident). And besides, it does not take a tropical storm to keep voters away from the polls; even an ordinary rainstorm will do it for significant numbers of people.
There are mishaps in most elections, and despite what civics books or even statutes may say about it, as a practical matter there has always been a very strong pressure to get the result confirmed, even if not every possible or even plausible doubt has been resolved. However much mischief has been done in the runup to the voting, experience suggests that leaving the results hanging opens the way to even more mischief.
We have a current example in the Afghanistan presidential election, and if that is not really the best laboratory for voting experience, we have also the infamous Hays-Tilden election in our own past. (Some people would cite the 2000 presidential election, but not me. The handling of the count was unsavory on both sides, but I was persuaded at the time that either candidate would have been a disaster. Experience proved me at least half right.)
However, there is a bigger issue forming. We no longer have Election Day. It is now Election Month, or at least Election Fortnight, and the day the polls open at the local school (Aug. 9 for the primary) is really the end, not the beginning.
Permanent absentees were able to vote from July 28 through Aug. 2. Early walk-in voters were allowed to vote between July 28 and Aug. 7.
More and more people are voting early.
In one way this is good. It becomes less and less effective to spring a last-minute smear, of the kind John Waihee used to beat Cec Heftel, when so many votes have already been cast. And so last-minute smears have dropped off, it seems to me.
On the other hand, sometimes important information comes out late legitimately, and if you have already voted you don’t get do-overs. (The Mitt Romney 47% videotape was revealed in mid-September 2012, which gave it plenty of time to stew in the gullets of ordinary Americans, but it might have been held later.)
I am uncertain how spreading out the voting affects the habit of voting, but I am sure it does. Part of what drives participation is anticipation and a big, culminating event. The four quarters of the Super Bowl are not played over four days but all at once.
Going to the polls was a civic sacrament. It also gave you a sense of community and some insight into who else was voting. I vote early about half the time, but I like going to my Makawao precinct. I always see a few people there who I haven’t seen for a long time -- maybe not since the last election.
Anonymizing elections will not, I suspect, have a good long-term effect.
THE CALVIN-SAY RESIDENCY CHALLENGE
It amazes me that residency challenges come up in every election. How hard can it be to live in the district you want to represent; or alternatively, to offer your candidacy in the district where you live?
And voters do not give a damn. Time and again they have shown themselves ready to elect people who were probably no longer residents in their districts, sometimes even candidates who were never in their districts. The moving factor seems to be a feeling that they know the candidate. That is enough.
The Say challenge raises a perennial question about independence of the legislative branch, but those conflicts are baked in. They are never going away. A better-crafted statute would leave less room for the disputants to maneuver, but they will find a way.
Patsy Mink, a local girl if ever there was one, did not live in the 2nd Congressional District; she had moved to her mother’s house, which was (by a short distance) in the 1st. There is no requirement that congressmen live in the districts they represent so long as they live in the state. But the indifference to where Mink lived is telling.
And the issue of where the legislator beds down most nights -- currently causing a flap which, I suspect, will amount to nothing for Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieux -- is mostly bogus. Mink told me she ran for Senate (and lost) because she wanted a six-year term instead of two so she wouldn’t have to come back to Hawaii so much.
And the travel is a serious matter for us westerners.
Only in Maui County is the residency requirement cogent. The imbalance among the three islands would assuredly mean that only seldom would Molokai or Lanai ever have a resident on the County Council, and Hana almost as rarely. (On the other hand, when I covered my first Hawaii elections in 1988, I was assured that never again would a Neighbor Island control the top committees in the House and Senate the way Yama and Souki did then. This prediction was only modestly successful.)
It is virtually impossible for the Lanai and Molokai members to do much living on Lanai or Molokai. Bob Carroll commuted every day from Hana, a grind but not that exceptional. Numbers of Mauians chose long commutes in order to sleep in their favorite part of this so-diverse island; Mike White is unusual but not exceptional.
The expense of maintaining two residences is a genuine barrier, though, to people of ordinary incomes trying to win the Lanai or Molokai seats. Perhaps the county should provide a duplex for each council member to bunk in in Wailuku, college dorm style, as a reasonable accommodation.
THE GMO INITIATIVE
Susan Halas posted the language that will appear on the November ballot on her Facebook page this morning, and it is ugly:
“Should the proposed initiative prohibiting the cultivation or reproduction of genetically engineered organisms within the County of Maui, which may be amended or repealed as to a specific person or entity when required environmental and public health impact studies, public hearings, a two thirds vote and a determination by the County Council that such operation or practice meets certain standards, and which establishes civil and criminal penalties, be adopted for Maui County?”
Although initiative has been allowed in Hawaii for a long time, it has not been used, which helps explain how such a ridiculous statement is to be presented to the voters; but places like California that use initiative a lot have not done that much better.
Or perhaps it is not so ridiculous; perhaps the lawyers have an agenda not concerned with the substance if the initiative.
As a practical matter, I don’t care. The anti-GMO drive is based on lies and confusion and I will have no difficulty in voting against it.
IANAL, but it seems probable that if that passes it will be rejected by the judges on several grounds, including vagueness and not being limited to a single issue. The words “certain standards” will be the crux.
What standard? Written by whom?
An initiative asking “Shall Maui County establish standards for cultivating crops?” would make a legitimate political question, although it would still be silly from a scientific viewpoint.
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