The 2020 primary election is on August 8, 2020.
Next week Thursday the first presidential debates will be held.
In June of 2020 the first “absentee ballots” will be mailed out.
For the first time in our history, every single registered voter in the state of Hawaii will receive a ballot in the mail and given time to respond by the August 8th deadline.
Given there are only 12 months available to mount and run a credible campaign, anyone thinking about running for public office should already be organizing that effort. While the door knocking and sign waving locally are perhaps (but not necessarily) still a few months away, serious candidates will be doing the research, organizing their team and putting the word out to the community of their intent to run.
Hawaii is essentially a one party state, which means the primary election is EVERYTHING. Even non-partisan elections for the County Council are more often than not decided in the primary election with only minor changes occurring in the general election.
The primary election is where the rubber meets the road and it’s 12 months away.
New candidates by now have reviewed the 2016 and 2018 primary election results available on the Office of Elections website. By reviewing the “win numbers” in these election cycles, they can tell with some certainty “how many votes they need to win”. Further they can see exactly “where those votes are” precinct by precinct.
Technologically akamai candidates can access voter files that will tell them exactly who voted, in what precinct, and in which election – we are talking name, address and sometimes telephone number. The voter files will not reveal who the person voted for, but will indicate whether or not that particular person voted, and whether it was in the Primary and/or the General.
A candidate thus should know exactly how many votes they need to win, and where exactly those votes can be found. When knocking on doors the candidate can if he/she chooses, only knock on the doors of residents who voted in the most recent primary election. By maximizing the use of voter file technology, instead of knocking on every door once (as in the old days), they can choose to knock only on the doors of residents who actually vote and more than double their efficiency.
Why knock on the doors of people who don’t vote? Why spend money on mailing campaign literature to people who don’t vote? Unfortunately, this strategy while extremely efficient, contributes to the disaffection of those very same groups. A compromise to this political and moral dilemma perhaps is to make some effort to reach out to nonvoters, but focus the lions share of the energy toward people that you absolutely know are going to vote. There is not enough time nor resources to do it all.
By examining the Office of Elections data from the past Primary elections, candidates can also evaluate the strength and weakness of the incumbent they may be running against. What precincts did they do well in? If the incumbent was challenged in the past, where did the challengers votes come from? If the incumbent ran unopposed, what was the number of “blank votes” and from which precincts?
Money of course is a key component of the formula as well. How many votes do you need and how much money do you need to get them?
We all know the stories of elections being won with very little to no money at all. Yes, that is possible…but you are kidding yourself majorly if you go down this path and truly expect to win.
So just how much does it cost to run a credible campaign in Hawaii? My “back of the envelope” response is at least $25,000 to $35,000. This amount is sufficient to purchase yard signs, banners, bumper stickers, some advertisements here and there, and a few direct mail pieces to voters in the district. In my experience, this is a minimum starting point for most State House races.
If you are a credible candidate, you need to be able to raise these funds – otherwise by definition you are not credible. A typical breakdown might be $10,000 from 100 people giving $100, $10,000 from 200 people giving $50, and the rest from family or others who believe in you and are willing to put up the funds needed to support your effort.
Do the homework. Visit the Campaign Spending Commission website and search the reports of any and all candidates. Here you can see how much money each candidate raised, who gave it to them and what they spent the money on.
Of course hard fought races against entrenched incumbents can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to wage. Yes, exceptional candidates can win with very little money, but they must certainly make up for the lack of funds via sweat equity – starting earlier and out-working the competition. But a certain amount of yard signs, banners and mailers/walking pieces are essential and a campaign will not look credible without them.
Yes, you also need a team. First and foremost you need a treasurer. You do not want to mess up on your bank account book-keeping or campaign finance reports. You need someone who is organized and can keep track of the money and receipts. And you need a campaign manager, or at least a trusted friend who will spend the time needed to help brainstorm and plan and strategize and recruit other volunteers. The reality is just a handful of people will do most of the work. On occasion it’s nice to have a hundred people on the highway holding signs, reality is that if you can maintain a dozen “go to” regular volunteers to help knock on doors, count yourself lucky.
At the end of the day, the bottom line advice is to “go for it”. If you are not pleased with the status quo, if you think you have what it takes, if you have roots in the community you hope to represent and if you have some record of community involvement and leadership (PTA, canoe club chair, Rotary, Sierra Club or whatever) – then yes go for it.
Competition is good for democracy.
First published in The Garden Island newspaper, June 19, 2019