A passion for voting: League of Women Voters Hawaii County working hard to register, educate voters

  • Alan Qualey registers to vote with League of Women Voters volunteer Holly Plackett, 71, at a voter registration drive earlier this month in Kailua-Kona. (Roberta Wong-Murray/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Rosemarie Muller registers voters at a League of Women Voters’ Voter Registration table. (Roberta Wong-Murray/Special to West Hawaii Today)

You might say that 79-year-old Sue Dursin’s passion for voting began before she was born, back to a time when women celebrated the right to vote as a hard-fought victory and affirmation of their intelligence and civic responsibility.

“Mom was 15 in 1920 when Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed a woman’s right to vote,” notes the Kailua-Kona resident. “It was a privilege that she enjoyed and fulfilled in every election year from 1925 until her death.”

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Rosemarie Muller’s earliest memories of voting are of going with her mother to vote in 1960, the year John F. Kennedy ran for president. It’s an experience she’s tried to pass down to her daughters and grandchildren.

“My daughters at an early age always accompanied me in the voting booth in Long Island, New York, on Election Day to watch me securely cast my ballot,” said Muller, a 71-year-old Hilo resident. “I now have three granddaughters and two grandsons and hopefully they will exercise their right to vote when they turn 18.”

Both women are actively involved with the Hawaii County chapter of League of Women Voters (LWV), a nonprofit organization founded in 1920 to support the women’s suffrage movement.

“No one should take for granted the struggle that women had to endure to get the right to vote,” says Muller, who is serving her second term as president of the League of Women Voters Hawaii County chapter. “We need to encourage more women to take an active role in the community.”

Throughout its history and throughout the county, the organization has advocated for voters’ rights, civic education and participation in public policy.

In 1997, Dursin, a previous two-term chapter president, was involved in the first attempt to establish vote-by-mail in the state, co-authoring a bill modeled after Oregon’s election process. That preliminary effort failed, but voting by mail became law last year.

“It’s a wonderful success,” says Dursin, “I lived to see it happen!”

Muller affirms her sentiments. “I think it will be very successful and also save money.”

So, this Aug. 8 primary election gives the league two reasons to celebrate — Hawaii’s first statewide all-mail election and the centennial of women voting. It also means the chapter’s 75 volunteers are having to work twice as hard to register new voters and educate new and older voters who haven’t voted by mail before.

League volunteers staffed voter registration drives that signed up 288 news voters before the July 9 deadline to register for a mail ballot, including 33-year-old Alan Qualey. He moved to Kailua-Kona in 2013, and has not voted in 10 years.

Asked about his motivation to vote Qualey replied, “We need to change the way things are going in our country. Even though I’m only one person, if everyone out there does it too, we can all make a difference.”

Muller is hopeful that the convenience of voting by mail will increase voter participation in a state that has the lowest voter turnout in the nation.

“Voters can open the ballots at home, do some research on the candidates and then vote in the privacy of their own home,” says Muller.

Voters can check voter guides in the newspaper or go online, including the league’s www.vote411.org platform, which features statements from candidates in national and local races.

“Just follow the prompts to insert your street address, state, zip code, and your customized voter’s guide will appear, segmented by ballot race, listing all candidate photos, biographies, and position statements,” Muller said.

She and the other league volunteers, who are mostly older voters, also want to let new mail voters know how to avoid mistakes that can spoil your ballot and keep it from being counted.

“Please make sure you read thoroughly all the instructions on the ballot and select only one political preference. Make sure you vote for only one candidate within your selected preference and vote on both sides of the ballot,” Muller said.

Ballots must also be returned and received before 7 p.m. on Aug. 8, Election Day. Late ballots, even if they are postmarked before Aug. 8, will not count if they are not returned on time.

Voters can drop off their ballot at a Voter Service Center or ballot drop-off box site rather than mailing it after Aug. 3 to be sure it arrives on time. And don’t forget to sign the outside of the envelope or your ballot may not be counted.

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“For a healthy democracy, people need to vote and get involved in our community’s issues,” says Dursin. “Make your voice heard and make your vote count.”

Disrupt Aging is a column produced by AARP Hawaii, West Hawaii Today and The Hawaii Tribune-Herald. It runs monthly in the West Hawaii Today Home Section on Sunday. Roberta Wong Murray is an AARP volunteer seeking stories about people who are redefining their age. Contact her at rwongmurray@gmail.com or call 322-6886.

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