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First poll results released 2 hours after scheduled closing

By Gregg K. Kakesako and Dan Nakaso

LAST UPDATED: 4:36 p.m. HST, Oct 23, 2012

The first returns from the primary election were released about two hours after the scheduled closing time after Gov. Neil Abercrombie ordered all of Hawaii island's polling places to remain open until 7:30 p.m. because an estimated 25 sites there didn't open on time this morning.

In the Honolulu mayor's race, Ben Cayetano is in the lead, but does not have more than 50 percent of the vote. Kirk Caldwell is second and current Mayor Peter Carlisle is third. Tulsi Gabbard leads Mufi Hannemann in the U.S. House race in the second congressional district and Mazie Hirono leads Ed Case in the race for U.S. Senate.

The last polling place on Hawaii island reported closing at about 8 p.m. Kauai's polls closed at 6:15 p.m., followed by Maui (6:20 p.m.) and Oahu (6:45 p.m.), elections spokesman Rex Quidilla said.

The first election results could not be released until all polls closed.

Problems at polling places on Hawaii island prompted the governor to extend polling hours.

Elections officials on Oahu initially were told that three of Hawaii island’s 40 polls opened late, then the number grew to 11, then to 25, Nago said.

The latest that Hawaii island polls opened was 8:30 a.m., Nago said.

Nago does not know where most of the late-opening polls were located on Hawaii island, but said the initial reports were clustered on the west side of the island.

The remaining polling places — 15 on Kauai, 35 in Maui County and 142 Oahu — closed at 6 p.m. as provided by law. Kauai County has 16 precincts, but no walk-in voting is done on Niihau’s sole polling place.

Abercrombie’s proclamation to keep polls open is not without precedent.

Then-Gov. Ben Cayetano issued a similar proclamation in 1996 because of heavy rains, Nago said.

Nago said only the governor can order polls to remain open and could not immediately answer reporters’ questions why Abercrombie’s proclamation did not apply beyond Hawaii island.

On Friday, the Hawaii Republican Party said concerns about the handling of the pre-election process on Hawaii island prompted it to send  a letter to the Office of Elections calling for “a written explanation about the actions of the Hawaii County officials in regard to the absentee ballots and polling places in Kona.”

 "Last-minute closures, unannounced changes in procedures, and unexplained personnel changes have compromised  the election on the Big Island. Action must be taken to guarantee that the Big Island voters who have the legal right to cast absentee ballots will be able to exercise that right," Hawaii Republican Party chairman David Chang said in a press release. 

Quidilla said his office did not know that today’s problem on Hawaii County was as widespread as reported by Abercrombie until the governor’s proclamation, which was issued before 3 p.m. Abercrombie’s proclamation said more than half of the polling places had trouble opening up at 7 a.m., but did not specify an exact number or location.

The length of the delays varied from a few minutes in some places to more than a half-hour in others, and almost an hour and a half in one location, Abercrombie said in a statement.

"The most important issue in this situation is to make sure that everyone who wants to vote can vote. By extending the poll hours, we are making that possible,” said Abercrombie. “I also want to thank all those who are working hard to assist at all polling stations across the state.”

The biggest problems were reported in West Hawaii where precinct workers weren’t able to find polling books. Three polling places were missing poll books, which contain the names of people registered to vote at that site.

There were only three areas where state elections officials knew of late openings until this afternoon.

“We were unaware of any other instances of multiple problems of late openings which is mentioned in the governor’s proclamation,” Quidilla said.

Just before 9 a.m., Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi said the opening of polling place at Kahakai Elementary School in North Kona was delayed for nearly two hours because of a “supply problem.” The Kahakai polling place opened at 8:35 a.m.

Kawauchi only issued two email news reports today -- at 3 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. --despite earlier promises that her office would issue periodic election bulletins throughout the day. At 4:30 p.m. she finally issued her third brief message saying Hawaii County polling hours would be extended to 7:30 p.m., but did not offer any explanation.

Before today’s election, state elections officials complained publicly that they were having problems communicating with Kawauchi and her office over reports of problems with election preparations.

Besides Kahawai Elementary School, poll books were missing at Kona Palisades Community Center in North Kona and Kona Vista  Recreational Center in Kailua-Kona, Quidilla said. Those two polling places opened about an hour late.

Quidilla this morning said it took a little longer than election officials had hoped to resolve the problems with the Kona polling places.

State Sen. Josh Green, who has no primary opponent in his Kailua-Kona district, said he asked state elections to extend the polling hours in three affected sites for two hours.

However, Quidilla said the law does not give the state elections officer that authority. Polling hours could only be extended by the governor if there is a natural emergency, he added.

Green, a Democrat, said he would make the request to Abercrombie, who later issued his proclamation.

Widespread late openings were not reported on Kauai, Maui or Oahu.

Except for Hawaii County, state elections officials reported that by early afternoon voting was proceeding with no major problems at the state’s 233 polling places.

While elections officials on Oahu came up 140 volunteers short for this primary election, Nago said a lack of volunteers does not seem to be the cause of the late poll openings on Hawaii island.

Quidilla said there was some confusion by voters because “this is the first election since redistricting” and some polling places were eliminated or consolidated.

He reported that a 10 a.m. random sampling of some of Oahu’s 40 polling places show that 7 percent of the island’s 461,896 registered voters had cast their ballots. He did not say how many precincts were included in the sampling.

On Kauai, Lyndon Yoshioka, spokesman for the Kauai County clerk, described that balloting was “little slow” for most of the day.

“It seems to be rather routine,” said Yoshioka referring to voting process just after 2 p.m.

An automobile accident knocked down a utility pole supplying electrical power to Kapaa Middle School, but power was restored before the 7 a.m. opening and balloting proceeded as scheduled.

At Wilcox Elementary School, one of its counting machines had to be replaced, Yoshioka said.

County Clerk Jeff Kuwata also reported that were no major problems reported by county officials at its 25 polling places. The island has 84,386 registered voters

On Oahu, Quidilla said there were “start-up problems” with three electronic voting machines in Leeward Oahu at Cavalry Chapel of Honolulu, Aiea High School, Mililani High School, but all were quickly resolved.

On Maui, there were no problems at polling places where 84,042 are registered to vote at Maui’s 35 polling places, Maui County clerk’s office reported.

At Hokulani Elementary School on Oahu, turnout was light by early afternoon. But precinct chairman Robert Kratzke and voter assistance official Mary Moriguchi suspect that there are fewer people voting on election day because of an increase in absentee voting.

“A lot of my friends voted absentee,” Moriguchi said.

Because of redistricting, some people who had voted here two years ago are now in a new district with a new polling place.

Moriguchi said there was only one voter who didn’t know where she was supposed to go. “She knew she was supposed to vote somewhere else, but she didn’t know where, so she came here to find out where she was supposed to go,” Moriguchi said.

St. Louis Heights residents Cary and Christin Matsushige discovered they weren’t on the voter rolls even though they voted two years ago. After a quick phone call to the state voter help line, their information was retrieved and Moriguchi authorized them to vote. It turns out they were living in a temporary home while their main residence was being renovated.

“Sometimes, when the yellow card gets returned in the mail, they take your name off the list,” Moriguchi told them.

At the start of the day, a light rain fell on the more than two dozen voters who stood in line 15 minutes before the polls opened at Manoa Elementary School.

George H. Matsuda, who has voted at the same precinct since 1962, was first in line. The reason for his early voting: "I get up early every morning."

The first order of business for Christina Iwaida, Manoa precinct chairwoman, was to swear-in her primary day election workers.

After Mark Shomura was the first person to use the precinct's sole electronic voting machine, Iwaida did a routine inspection to see that everything was working properly.

This was the second time that Shomura has voted electronically. "It's pretty easy," he said.

Quidilla said there is one electronic voting machine at each of the state's 233 polling places — as required by federal law.

There are 281 candidates running for 105 federal, state and county offices in this year's primary which was moved up from September. Key races include U.S. Senate and House, Hono­lulu and Hawaii County mayor, and eight state legislative seats with no incumbent.

Hawaii voters will decide the finalists for three Congressional seats and choose their favorite among three candidates in a mayoral race that has revolved around rail.

As of Thursday more than 90,300 Oahu voters had returned their mail-in absentee ballots or came in early to vote, according to the Hono­lulu city clerk's office. Out of more than 102,637 absentee ballots that were mailed, 75 percent had been returned by Thursday. Another 12,941 people voted early at one of the three walk-in voting sites on Oahu. Those sites closed Thursday.

In the Honolulu mayoral election incumbent Mayor Peter Carlisle is facing former city Managing Director Kirk Caldwell and former Gov. Ben Caye­tano. in the non-partisan race. To win outright, a candidate must receive a majority of the votes, otherwise the two top vote-getters will head to the Nov. 6 general election.

In the Senate race, former Gov. Linda Lingle is expected to easily beat her four opponents to face either U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono or former U.S. Rep. Ed Case Nov. 6.

Running to replace Hirono are Democrats former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard and four other candidates. The winner will face either Republican Kawika Crowley or Matthew DiGeronimo.

In the second U.S. House race, Democrat Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is running for re-election and is expected to face former City Councilman Charles Djou, a Republican.

Also on the ballot are 23 state Senate seats and 51 House seats, but 16 of those races include unopposed incumbents.

Besides Hawaii County, polls elsewhere will remain open until 6 p.m. Anyone in line at 6 p.m. will be allowed to vote, election officials say.

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