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Empowering the blank votes

Here's a well-known joke. Two people are sitting in a bar. One says, "Do you think there's too much ignorance and apathy?" The other replies, "I don't know and I don't care."

Now consider the citizen who takes the time to register and then to vote, but who leaves the ballot blank on some contests. That blank vote in any particular contest indicates either that the voter has not taken the time to learn about the candidates, or else the voter knows about the candidates but is disgusted with all of them. That voter, who invested time and effort to register and vote, is neither ignorant nor apathetic about the issues and candidates overall. But by voting blank the voter is admitting both ignorance and apathy regarding a particular contest, or else is proclaiming a rejection of all the candidates and perhaps also anger at having no candidate worthy of support. Some jurisdictions, like Nevada, offer "none of the above" as a choice to show knowledgeable rejection of all candidates; but in Hawaii we have only the blank.

I believe that if "blank" is the actual winner of a contest, then the voters have spoken and all of those candidates have been rejected by the people. In such a case the Governor should appoint someone to fill the office, but the Governor should be prohibited from appointing anyone whose name appeared on the ballot.

In both the primary and general elections of 2008, there were contests for the Board of Education where the number of blank votes was larger than the number of votes received by any of the candidates. OHA contests appear only on the general election ballot. In 2008 three of the four OHA contests had more blank votes than any of the candidates received, while the winner in the fourth contest had fewer than two percent more votes than there were blanks.

For each Board of Education and OHA contest in 2008 where "blank" was the winner; and also for those in 2010, I would like to (have) see(n) the office declared vacant and have the Governor fill it with someone whose name was not on the ballot. Of course it would take a Constitutional amendment to make the change I am recommending. Since no such amendment is on the ballot this year, I suggest that people should vote "yes" on the Constitutional amendment which is actually on the ballot, which proposes that the Governor should appoint the members of the Board of Education.

In Hawaii we've all been told that "blank votes count as 'no' votes on state Constitutional amendments." That's a half-truth. The Constitution is so important that we have a rule that we will not amend it unless the amendment passes by an absolute majority of "all votes cast upon the question." The state Supreme Court has interpreted that to mean that the number of "yes" votes must be larger than 50% of all the votes, where all the votes include yes, no, and blank. However contrary to common sense it may be, a blank is treated as a vote which was cast upon the issue. Therefore there must be more yeses than the combined total of noes and blanks. The practical effect is that a blank counts as though it is a no.

Blank votes are counted as votes, and already have great power when it comes to Constitutional amendments. My proposal merely extends that power to the election of candidates to office.

Blank means no. Silence is not consent. If "blank" is the winner of a contest, that means the voters were either ignorant and apathetic about the candidates or else the voters were knowledgeably and vigorously rejecting them all. Either way, the voters have said they don't want any of those blankety-blank candidates in office. The office should be declared vacant and should be filled by the Governor appointing someone who was not on the ballot.

Perhaps the legislators "in their wisdom" will put my proposal on the ballot in 2012. Meantime, let's pass the Constitutional amendment on this year's ballot to let the Governor appoint the Board of Education.

By the way, to see my recommendations for U.S. House Districts #1 and #2, U.S. Senate, Governor, and 5 OHA trustees, please go to
You'll notice that I recommend casting a blank vote in the OHA election for the Maui seat, because Boyd Mossman is the only candidate and I strongly disapprove of him. I'll bet "blank" beats Mossman, confirming majority support for my attitude toward him. I didn't get around to the Board of Education because my recommendations are focused on opposing the Akaka bill. It's not because I don't know and don't care about the Board of Education. Really. You believe me, don't you?

My friend Danny De Gracia II made an eloquent plea to vote against the Constitutional amendment to make the Board of education appointed by the Governor; because, he said, the right to vote is precious and we should hold on to it tenaciously. But I say the fact that "blank" has won many BOE contests in recent years is evidence that the Governor should appoint them. In the interest of being "fair and balanced" I recommend reading De Gracia's essay in Hawaii Reporter of October 22 at


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(c) Copyright 2010 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved