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From non-voter to political candidate

On Saturday, Edythe McNamee, a CNN videographer, and I went canvassing with a group called Kanu Hawaii. Volunteers are trying to increase the state’s low voter turnout rate. One of the people we followed from door to door, avoiding barking dogs and suspicious glares from some residents, was 36-year-old Joe Heaukulani.

He told us a remarkable story of transformation.

Joe didn’t always care about voting. He actually didn’t vote at all until 2010, when he was in his 30s. He said he never considered himself to be the type of person who voted (“It just wasn’t a big part of my world”) and wasn’t really interested in politics.

He voted for the first time basically because he was asked to do so.

Through Twitter, he found a section of Kanu’s website that asked him to make a pledge to vote. He did. It was that simple. No one had really asked before. Now he spends weekends knocking on doors and handing out voter registration forms on parts of the island where few people tend to participate in politics. We walked around with Joe for a couple of hours before another volunteer told us that earlier this year, in the primary election, he ran for a seat in the state house of representatives.

The second ballot he cast in his life had his name on it as a candidate for office. He ran a small, non-partisan campaign without any money, he said. He went door to door, much like he does on volunteer trips with Kanu, asking his neighbors about the issues that matter to them. He didn’t win. (“I think I got 12 votes,” he said.) But he did prove a point: Anyone, regardless of whether they have money, or whether they consider themselves part of the political machine, can solicit input from their neighbors and join the democratic process.

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