Why Hawai'i should vote nonpartisan in 2020

Source: Honolulu Civil Beat

Democrats vs Republicans. Blue vs. Red. You know the story.

It’s the same one we’ve been told our whole lives. "Pick a side," demonizing one another into oblivion. The current two-party system at the national level has deepened divisiveness, polarizing our state of affairs. George Washington himself in his farewell address warned against the divisive dangers of the two-party system. That was over 200 years ago. After gaining some “2020 vision,” it now appears he was foreshadowing the events to come.

It’s a little different here in Hawai'i. Much of our local politics has nothing to do with the partisanship in Washington DC. We have solidly voted blue since our first presidential election in 1960 (save for two terms with Republican Governor Linda Lingle). Some may consider this a good thing. After all, the Democratic Party champions themselves as the party of labor and inclusion. But for many, it may seem that we’re boxed in, locked into just a single way of thinking and doing things. This has led to many consequences that have long-hurt our democratic process and vision as a State.

Single-party politics in Hawai'i have long been ripe with corruption. With little opposition from a weak Hawai'i Republic Party, state lawmakers have been able to govern by "groupthink" and creating alliances to pass legislation and choose leadership.

Single-party dominance has also led Hawai'i to have one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country. During the 2016 general presidential election (undoubtedly a critical year as we all now know), only 55% of eligible Hawai'i voters turned out to vote. Voter apathy is a huge problem to our democratic process, but it's not surprising if the results always seem to be the same.

Single-party politics kills transparency. Colin Moore of the UH Public Policy Center stated, "It’s very difficult to tell what’s going on in the Legislature because there’s no incentive for Democrats to air their dirty laundry in public, which means less transparency. We’re going to be stuck with a political party that runs by favors and factions and doesn’t really feel the need to articulate clear policy visions.”

The Democratic agenda in the mainland is commendable and certainly important to removing Trump from office. However, our unique situation and historical challenges in Hawai'i require unique solutions, and we need to think outside of the “blue box” to actually bring about the changes we all crave. A stronger minority party could help with accountability and transparency, but Republicans have major Trump-related brand issues right now, to put it lightly. Supporting third-party or nonpartisan candidates can help bring more balance of power to our State Legislature.

However, we face major uphill battle in the upcoming partisan primary contests, where nonpartisan candidates must receive at least 10% of all votes cast. This means that at least 10% of all voters must specifically fill out a "nonpartisan" primary ballot and give up participation in the primaries of other partisan races. The current electoral system inherently puts nonpartisan voices at a disadvantage, severely limiting the choices voters have in the General Election.

2020 has already proved plenty turbulent, and we’re just getting started. Too much is at stake for our residents, from COVID-19 to our economic survival. This is a year to shake things up. Upend, not uphold systems that don’t serve us. A vote for a nonpartisan candidate will send a message loud and clear that both brand-name parties have truly lost touch with the average citizen. We must keep partisan politicians on their toes.

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