Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

You convinced them to vote

By John D. Sutter, CNN
updated 4:20 PM EST, Mon November 5, 2012
Using the Internet, the public convinced three of these nonvoters in Hawaii to vote in the upcoming election.
Using the Internet, the public convinced three of these nonvoters in Hawaii to vote in the upcoming election.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 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

(CNN) -- 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."

Change the List: 47 of your pro-voting arguments

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.

1. Paul Hewlett: Not voting, but plans to in the future

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.

2. Michael Remen: Voting

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."

3. Nani Teruya: Not voting

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."

4. Skyler Gayhart: Voting

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."

5. Nanci Munroe: Not voting

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.

6. Tyler Tawara: Voting

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.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
The goal of this news experiment is to use the power of the Internet -- with your help -- to push for change in places that need it most.
Elle Cochran grew up far too enchanted by Maui's rocky coastline and beach-bum lifestyle to care a thing about politics and voting.
updated 7:20 PM EDT, Wed October 24, 2012
In 2008, Hawaii had the lowest voter turnout in the U.S. How come? And can they Change The List for the 2012 election?
updated 1:36 PM EDT, Wed October 31, 2012
There are many ways to encourage someone to vote -- from shaming to calling on the power of history. Here are some arguments you submitted.
Hawaii has the lowest voter turnout rate in the nation. Who has the highest? Check this list to see -- and find how your state ranks.
updated 2:27 PM EDT, Mon October 29, 2012
Kawika Crowley lives, works and runs his U.S. congressional campaign out of a beat-up white minivan.
These six Hawaii residents don't plan to vote in November. Use social media to help us convince them to make their voices heard.
updated 9:52 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
Help us convince Paul to vote for the first time. Post messages or videos and tweet the link with the hashtag #CTL1. Here are the best so far.
updated 9:57 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
Michael Remen doesn't plan to vote because of polling place issues on his island. Tell him why his vote matters Tag the message #CTL2.
updated 10:00 AM EDT, Tue October 23, 2012
Nani Teruya considers the U.S. government to be illegitimate in Hawaii. Send her a message and tag it #CTL3.
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Wed October 24, 2012
Soon to be 18, Skyler Gayhart said he feels to young to be able to cast a ballot. Take a look at the meesages readers have sent him. And send your own.
updated 11:53 AM EDT, Wed October 24, 2012
One year, Nanci Munroe found out the new president while she was driving to her polling place. Tell her that her vote still matters.
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Wed October 24, 2012
Tell his University of Hawaii student why it's important for young people to participate in our democracy. Tag messages #CTL6.
From surfer apathy to an ugly history, a bite-sized look at the problem.
Some groups -- the educated and the rich, for example -- vote at much higher rates than the rest. Here's a look at the data.
Joe Heaukulani. 36, has a remarkable story of transformation. He didn't vote at all until 2010 -- and now he's inspiring others to care.
Share this image on Tumblr to thank people in Hawaii for voting this November.
It's public record whether you voted or not. So with records in hand, we searched out some non-voters. Not to shame -- but to encourage.
These people who pledged to vote for the first time are the ones who can bump Hawaii off the bottom of the list. Make your pledge here.
Sam Slom is the only Republican state senator in Hawaii. "I go to work everyday," he says, "and I'm outnumbered 24 to one."
Around statehood, in 1959, more than 90% of registered voters in Hawaii went to the polls. So what happened?
Social studies teacher Jason Duncan is trying to do his part to kill voter apathy. "One of my responsibilities is to create an informed citizenry."
A look at voters and non-voters in the Aloha State.
Officials on the Big Island of Hawaii are working to make sure the November election goes smoothly after problems plagued the primary.
Let your friends know you will vote on November 6. It will encourage them to do the same.
U.S. House candidate Kawika Crowley says he lives out of this van, which also serves as his campaign headquarters.
Nick Fancher, 18, attends the school Obama did. He's not sure who will get his vote, but he has ideas about getting others to turn out.
Maui's mayor wants everyone on the island to participate in elections. A district in West Maui has the lowest turnout rate.
Keanu Sai, a professor at the University of Hawaii, has a unique idea involving a transitional government for the "occupied" state.
Check out this Facebook app by the news site Civil Beat. If you're in Hawaii, the app can teach you about local candidates.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT