Hawai'i Voters have Spoken

State, county races yield expected results

Editor-in-Chief Brian Wild

“…voter turnout in 2016 was better than two years ago, when barely half of Hawai‘i voters cast ballots.”

As millions of voters across the nation had their eyes glued to TV screens and laptop monitors, anxiously awaiting to find out the next president on Election Night, a multitude of other races were unfolding simultaneously.

Indeed, thousands of other elections had been conducted throughout each of the states and their respective municipalities on Nov. 8, and Hawai‘i was no exception. As my colleague Valentina Martinez reported in the last issue of Ke Kalahea, dozens of state and county candidates launched bids for public office in Hawai‘i.

At the federal level, one U.S. Senate seat and both of Hawai‘i’s U.S. House seats were on the ballot. At the state level, all 51 members of the state House of Representatives were up for election, as well as approximately half of the state Senate. Additionally, the state’s four main counties conducted elections for county council, while Honolulu likewise held its mayoral contest.

Unlike the presidential race, full of drama and upset, Hawai‘i elections concluded in a much more predictable fashion. In other words, Democrats dominated. The federal races were seen as perhaps the biggest snoozer. In the presidential contest, Democrat Hillary Clinton trounced her Republican opponent, Donald Trump; this result was seen by nearly all political observers as a foregone conclusion even before Election Day.

The same was true of the congressional races, where Democrat Brian Schatz easily held his Senate seat. Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard, also Democrats, were just as easily guaranteed victories in their respective House races.

Hawai‘i’s state races were barely more eventful. Democrats made marginal gains, and will maintain their firm, decades-long grip on control of the state Capitol. Several upstart challengers like Byron Young in House District 1 (Honoka‘a), failed to unseat better-known incumbents, like Democrat Mark Nakashima. Likewise, Hilo’s state senator, Kai Kahele, beat his Libertarian opponent by a whopping 72 points.

Perhaps the biggest news of the evening was in the ninth state Senate district; 34-year-old challenger Stanley Chang, a Democrat, defeated incumbent state Senator Sam Slom, a Republican. With Chang’s election, all 25 members of the Hawai‘i State Senate will be Democrats – a feat that no other state in the union has replicated in recent memory.

Framing county races in Hawai‘i along red-versus-blue lines is trickier, since elections at the county level are officially non-partisan. For the Big Island, two county council seats were among the biggest prizes up for grabs.

In an update to Ke Kalahea’s previous story on Eileen O’Hara, the UH Hilo adjunct faculty member won a plurality of votes cast to represent District 4 (Hawaiian Beaches, Hawaiian Paradise Park) in the Hawai‘i County Council. Lee Loy, a political newcomer like O’Hara, managed to win in District 3 (Hilo).

Overall, the voting trends in Hawai‘i offer a mixed outlook for future civic participation. As the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported, voter turnout in 2016 was better than two years ago, when barely half of Hawai‘i voters cast ballots. At the same time, this year’s turnout is down from 2012, where 62 percent of the electorate participated. And with lagging turnout expected in two years from now – a midterm year, like 2014 – pollsters and politicians alike expect Hawai‘i to remain quite friendly to incumbents, the vast majority of whom are Democrats.