Change the List is a new project from CNN Opinion
The column is focused at the moment on Hawaii's low voter turnout rate
We asked the Internet to convince six people in the Aloha State to vote
Three said they will cast ballots on Tuesday because of your messages
It only took one message to convince Michael Remen.
“The one that stuck in my head the most was the one about Arlington National Cemetery – all the people that gave their lives just so that we could vote. I’m not a military person or nothing like that but they were right, and it makes sense,” said Remen, who is a sous-chef in Hilo, Hawaii. “That’s the main reason I’m going to go try (to vote on Tuesday). If I wouldn’t have read that, I probably wouldn’t” have decided to vote.
The message came from a complete stranger, identified on Facebook as Bernie Sarratea, as part of a CNN Change the List campaign to get people in Hawaii to vote in the upcoming election. The state had the lowest voter turnout rate in 2008, making it the focus of several stories that are part of a new project, which I’m heading up. The goal is to create a conversation that could help bump Hawaii off the bottom of that list.
We featured six nonvoters from Hawaii as a way to highlight the diverse reasons people in the Aloha State don’t vote. Because of your efforts, three of them decided to vote, two of those for the first time. A fourth plans to vote in the future, but did not register in time for tomorrow’s election (that’s yet another reason Hawaii should pass a same-day voter registration law). Two say they won’t vote in this election, but even they said that they were moved by the pro-voting arguments you sent, and that they may reconsider eventually. “I’ve been reading them all. It’s amazing,” said Nani Teruya, who does not plan to vote on Tuesday but seems to revel in the fact that she’s become a local celebrity of sorts in Maui because of this online campaign. “I love it, you know. I really take into consideration what people are saying. But, you know, I still have my reasons.”
Personally, I think convincing three out of six is a great success. I chose these six nonvoters because I couldn’t figure out how to convince them to vote in person, on my visit to Hawaii. Their friends hadn’t been able to either. Each posed a challenge.
It shows the power of the Internet – a medium that certainly goes a long way to shrink the thousands of miles of ocean between Hawaii and the mainland – that your messages were able to persuade 50% of the people we featured. Incidentally, a 50% turnout rate is exactly what Hawaii needs to hop off the bottom of the national voter turnout list, if the numbers hold from the 2008 presidential election.
And how cool is it that one message from a stranger could convince another person to exercise his right to vote? It reinforces my belief that if everyone asked several friends to vote in this upcoming election, turnout would be much higher and, more importantly, our democracy would be more representative of the people. There’s real power in an invitation into the political process, even if it’s via Facebook.
Here’s the tally of who plans to vote and who doesn’t. Click the links below to read the messages that people sent to each of the nonvoters. Thanks to all of you who sent in messages. Know that they made a difference in how some people view voting.
Hewlett’s wife, Lois, told me in an e-mail that her husband had not registered to vote for this election but now plans to do so in order to vote in 2014.
The sous-chef on Hawaii’s Big Island did not plan to vote when I met him in October because he had such trouble at his polling place during the primary election this year. Here is the text of the Facebook message that convinced him to vote:
“Send him a free ticket to Arlington Cemetery and (show) him how many reasons there are to vote, since all those there died for that right, here and abroad.”
“I thought that was a really powerful statement,” Remen said, “and it made really good sense.”
Teruya doesn’t vote because she believes the U.S. illegitimately overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom and has no right to rule the islands. She said she loved the messages encouraging her to vote – some asked her to support candidates who value issues that are important to the Native Hawaiian community – but that she’s not ready to vote in this election.
“To tell you the truth, my mind is made up. I’m going to stay the way I am,” she said. “I have my reasons. And voting is just not me.”
Her phone was ringing off the hook, she said, because of the project. People in Maui are talking about voting now, she said, and she expects that will make a difference at the polls. As for her: “For this election,” she said, “I’m not ready.”
Gayhart, a high school senior, initially said he didn’t feel informed enough to vote. But after reading messages from other young people who said they learned about the political process because they decided to vote, he came to see it as important.
“I thought it was pretty legit,” he said of the project. “All my friends have been posting it on my Facebook.” He felt some peer pressure to vote, too. “I feel like I needed to vote because I’m on the thing. I feel like I’m obligated to vote. I feel good about it. You should. I’m going to be an adult anyway. I think it’s a right.”
Munroe appreciated your efforts – “That was so cool. I thought a lot of those people had some really good ideas” – but she doesn’t plan to vote. Since Hawaii is so far from the mainland U.S., national politics simply don’t matter, she said. “I just don’t feel like my vote counts for a darn thing. I don’t think it will sway things one way or another,” she said. If the Electoral College were abolished, she said, then she might reconsider.
Tawara, a student at the University of Hawaii, said his parents didn’t know he wasn’t planning to vote until they saw him featured on this website. His brother circulated the page of messages from people on the Internet, asking Tawara to vote. The family pressure mounted from there. “I mean, they’re not like forcing me to vote. My parents aren’t forcing me, but they said it’s a good thing and so I’m going to vote.”
He performed a sort of cost-benefit analysis about voting. Once he looked into the process and realized he could vote by mail, it seemed so easy that there was no reason not to bother with it. “I don’t think my vote counts as much, but I am going to vote. It’s an opportunity that isn’t really hard to do so I just figure, why not?”
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John D. Sutter.