Hawai’i has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation. But, as HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports, one elected official wants to change that.
State Senator Stanley Chang knocked on 16-thousand doors in the last election and won a seat to represent East Honolulu from Hawai’i Kai to Diamond Head.
“My two favorite statistic about voter participation in Hawai’i. Number one: three-quarters of all the voters in Hawaii are over the age of 55. So you can win every single person of working or student age and you’d get swamped 3-to-1 by the retirees. Actually, for older folks, it's not so bad. We're not last. But for young people we are by far, the worst.”
Chang’s top priority is to establish an official Youth Commission of 14-24 year olds to represent that demographic.
“Affordable housing. If you’re over 55 you already own your own home, probably. Good jobs. If you’re over 55 you either have a job already or you’re retired. If you’re over 55 – education -- your kids are already through the education system. You’re already through the education system. These are no longer the top priorities of the voters of Hawai’I, which is why, year after year, decade after decade, these are the chronic, persistent issues that face us year after year.”
Thirteen year-old Tyler Fisher from Kahului, Maui, wants a say in the political process and is committed to change.
“Drugs in the community. That’s a really big one. Alcohol and drugs. And it’s really hard to see a lot of my friends getting into it because of other kids. And then, like, I see kids getting arrested and some of them I know and, like, thinking, ‘Wow.’ This could be our next generation. I wouldn’t want that.”
William Nhieu is a Millennial. He purchased a condo in Kaka’ako two years ago and now, at age 30, is engaged and settling in. He says his friends are also looking for places to buy and entering the next stage in life.
“Conventional wisdom says, you know, maybe when you have children you might focus a little more on some issues or you might care about funding for the schools. When my parents get older, I’m gonna care more about kupuna care. Different life cycles, have different priorities.”
Meanwhile, Senator Chang, a 35 year-old Millennial, says he will continue his fight to engage younger voters and push legislation for a Youth Commission to give them a voice.
“Sixteen and 17 year-olds, they’re allowed to drive, to work, to pay taxes and to get married. And, they are not allowed to vote. That, I think is unfair.”
For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.