"We're doing a story ... (Crash!) ... about voting!" "Could you talk to us for just a min ... (Crash) ... ute?" "It's for CNN!"
One of the women yelled back, asking more about the story.
I told her we were in West Maui because so few people vote.
"But I vote!"
All the more reason to talk.
Alice Woodrow and Christine Brennan, both 27, told us they had heard about the Save Honolua campaign on Facebook and through friends. The issue is so hotly debated among surfers and young people, they said, that people talk about the preservation status of the bay while they're floating out in its waters, waiting to catch a wave.
Thank you, Internet.
The other person who got tagged in this Honolua Facebook campaign was Nani Teruya's daughter. Teruya, remember, is the woman who campaigned for Elle Cochran but won't vote because she says the U.S. government is illegitimate here. Her daughter, however, approached her mom one day and asked whether she could register to vote. She had heard about the Honolua campaign on the social network and wanted to participate.
To my surprise, Teruya told her daughter yes. She wanted her daughter to have her own voice and to make her own decision about politics and the United States.
Cochran considers this to be one of her greatest accomplishments.
She brought up this story when I asked her whether the turnout would be higher in November. Teruya's daughter, she said, passed out 30 or 40 voter registration forms to friends. This is the daughter of a woman who refuses to vote -- who never has participated.
"I think that alone says something," Cochran said.
'Boozy' on ballot day
When I started doing research on what makes people vote, I came across what at first seemed like an awesome idea: shaming them into it.
Hear me out. In the 1800s, voting was a "boozy, men's only" event "where men packed onto courthouse steps to select their leaders with raised hands or words bellowed over the din," as Sasha Issenberg writes in "The Victory Lab."
The important part is not the booze, which no doubt would be out of place in our sterile, modern polling locations. It's that voting was public. All of your neighbors could see whether you showed up at those courthouse steps and raised your hand.
If you didn't, you'd be embarrassed in front of friends and family.
Today, whether a person votes is public record. While we were in West Maui, Edythe and I actually used those public records to do a scavenger hunt of sorts, tracking down non-voters. But my guess is that most people don't even know that info exists.
Academics do. Two Yale researchers and one from the University of Northern Iowa conducted an experiment in 2006 to prove the power of these records. They sent mailers out to homes before the Michigan primary that included bits of scary information: whether they had voted in the past and whether their neighbors had, too. The mailers suggested that another letter would come after the election, telling all of the person's neighbors whether he or she made it to the polls for the primary.
Public shaming worked. Those people were 8% more likely to vote, which may not sound like much but is a huge and significant number in the world of voter turnout rates.
This year, The Atlantic used this information to argue for the United States to "abolish the secret ballot." It's a compelling argument and a sexy one. But, after going to Hawaii, I don't think it would work. The public backlash would be too strong. And who wants to vote simply because they're afraid of looking bad in front of their neighbors?
Instead, serious efforts to boost voter participation must be hard-fought over the long term. As many people in the state told me, there's no silver bullet.
But there are some winning solutions, no matter how difficult. They include:
• Improving the education system. Hawaii should require students to learn about civics and voting. A report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that 32% of U.S. high school seniors did not learn about voting, political parties or elections. Those lessons are being taught in some Hawaii classrooms, like that of Jason Duncan at Mililani High School. I watched him engage students in a lively conversation about the importance of voting; 16-year-old Demaleena Long left the class determined to vote when she's able. Before that, she "didn't think it mattered." She is one of the lucky ones, however. Many students don't get that message -- and they risk turning into non-voting, checked-out adults.
• Eliminating the Electoral College. People in Hawaii are right when they say their votes don't matter in presidential elections. A true popular vote would help fix that, and it would reduce the degree to which Hawaii's time zone matters.