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Winter 2006

President's Message: Convention Highlights
League Receives ABA Award
Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (HCALG) (Grace Furukawa)
National Convention (Marianna Scheffer)
League Attends Special Drug Policy Forum Event (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
Whither Goes Our Republic? (Jean Aoki)
Sad News (Carol Whitesell)
Explanation Worth Considering (Valere McFarland)
Voter Owned Elections (Kory Payne)
On Voting and Not Voting (Carol Bain)
Other Voting Facts
BOE Election (Mary Anne Raywid)
Report of Convention 2006 Action (Sue Irvine)
Growing Movement for National Election of President (Jean Aoki)
Chapter Report - Kauai (Carol Bain)
Chapter Report - Honolulu (Piilani Kaopuiki)
Chapter Report - Hawaii (Marianna Scheffer)

An Explanation Worth Considering

Since this is an election year, there are a lot of articles about our embarrassingly low voting rates in Hawaii and discussions of the reasons therefor. Many are quite superficial, few dig very far below the surface. Political scientist E. E. Schattschneider developed a concept that seems to offer a particularly apt explanation for Hawaii's voting record --the high initial percentages which, in a period of less than 50 years, have plum-meted to the lowest in the nation. He called it privatization – by which he meant a condition or process of "leaving the public out of the decision-making process" (Schattschneider, 1960, p. 140).

The idea was further developed by one of his colleagues, Iannaccone, who referred to privatization as the tendency for power brokers to keep people out of the decision-making process by deliberately keeping it hidden (1977, p. 271). In Hawaii, a one party system, dominated by the Democratic party, has become firmly entrenched since 1954, when the Young Democrats came into power. One-party systems have been notoriously successful as mechanisms for the limitation of conflict, including public discussion, and simultaneously for the depression of political participation.

This has certainly been the case in Hawaii. According to Schattschneider, the voter can be limited as effectively in other ways as he and she can be by an outright denial of the right to vote (p. 103, 1960). He theorized that a one-party system serves to disenfranchise by completely shutting the public out of the decision-making process. How is this done? By so concealing conflict that the voter is presented with no choices. As Schattshcneider put it:

Above everything, the people are powerless if the political enterprise is not competitive. It is the competition of political organizations that provides the people with the opportunity to make a choice. Without this opportunity, popular sovereignty amounts to nothing (1960, p, 140).

What we can expect from a two-party system is a competitive political system in which competing leaders and organizations define the alternatives as to public policy in such a way as to provide the public a means to participate in the decision-making process.

"Democracy," said Schattschneider,"is a political system in which the people have a choice among the alternatives created by competing political organizations and leaders" (1960, p. 141). Without the two parties, he insisted, there can be no alternatives, no choices, and no democracy. Schattschneider's privatization idea suggests quite a different reason for Hawaii's abysmal voting statistics than those usually offered. It is an explanation that is even harder to do something about than most and it calls for a more long term cure than do most diagnoses. But it may well be worth considering.


Iannaccone, L. (1977). Three views of change in educational politics: The politics of education. In J.D. Scribner (Ed.), The politics of education: The seventy-sixth yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (Vol. 77, pp. 255-286). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Schattschneider, E. (1960). The semisovereign people: A realist's view of democracy in America. Hinsdale, IL: Dryden Press.

Valere McFarland
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