Democracy promises a government of, by, and for the people, but what we have today is a vicious cycle of disappointed people who no longer vote, and a politics dominated by moneyed interests that have rushed in to fill the void. In the past 40 years, Hawaii has gone from having the highest voter turnout in the country to posting the lowest rates in the nation. Breaking this cycle will require each of us to take new responsibility - new kuleana - as citizens and citizen-leaders.
In June 2012, Kanu Hawaii launched a volunteer-driven effort to get money and special interests out of politics and the voices of ordinary citizens back in. Kanu volunteers, most in their 20s and 30s, have been leading an effort to...
(1) expand the vote - registering new voters, especially chronically under-represented communities, young people, and working families with children.
(2) gather community voices - door-to-door and online, asking people to share what's important and summarizing priorities in ways leaders can respond to.
(3) create information for accountability - pre-election voter guides and post-election reports, equipping people to hold elected leaders accountable.
Volunteers canvassed 2,000 homes, concentrated in areas with historically low voter turnout on Oahu. They knocked on doors - not to push an agenda or candidate, but simply to ask people: "What's most important to *you* this election year?" They also reached out online. We used what we heard from people to draft candidate questionnaires that speak to the concerns of local communities.
Kanu volunteers also worked hard to reach new, first-time voters through campus- and community-based voter registration drives. Volunteers made over 100 classroom presentations in six weeks at UH Manoa, LCC Waianae, and HPU; tabled at malls, farmers markets, and community events; and registered new voters at the door. Working with partners at No Vote No Grumble
, volunteers registered more than 2,500 new voters before the General Election.
Information for Accountability
Nobody wants to read through canned candidate statements or issue reports before election day. So, we took candidate and issue information and put it into accessible and fun formats. Candidate responses to our community questionnaires are displayed in "game" format
, where you can view candidate responses without knowing who said them, pick the ones that resonate, and get a report at the end of the game about which candidate best matched your views. We're also producing elections infographics
that are easy to digest.
Our volunteers are exploring new ways to reach voters at scale without depending on big advertising budgets. They're using innovative, online friend-to-friend techniques to engage large numbers of people, and experimenting with affordable forms of advertising and direct mail. Combined with their door-to-door experience, volunteers are developing a toolbox to run campaigns - for a candidate or a cause - that don't depend on big money.
Being the Leaders We Hope For
Our volunteers have reached thousands of people in communities with historically low voter turnout, engaging folks in conversation about issues, and sharing information that builds accountable relationships with elected leaders. The young leaders who are driving this effort are getting first-hand experience at what it takes to (re)engage an entire community in civic conversation and "campaign" without depending on money. This election cycle is a first step in a longer project to build a base of engaged citizens and to build new leaders who can inspire our engagement. Please drop us a line
if you'd like to join the effort. Mahalo!
The HawaiiCandidates.info is a project of Kanu Hawaii, a Hawaii-based non partisan, nonprofit organization.