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Ballot shortages turn voters away from polls

By Mary Vorsino / Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 1:42 a.m. HST, Nov 7, 2012

Despite lower voter turnout compared with 2008, at least 21 polling places on Oahu ran out of paper ballots Tuesday, making for long lines and long waits for hundreds of voters, some of whom decided the wait to cast a ballot wasn’t worth the time.

Election officials blamed the ballot shortage on higher-than-expected turnouts at some precincts and incorrect estimates about how many ballots were needed.

Overall, voter turnout declined from the presidential election four years ago.

About 61 percent of registered voters — or about 432,000 people — cast ballots, according to the state Office of Elections, compared with 66 percent in 2008, or about 456,000 people.

At the polling places where paper ballots ran out, long lines formed for the single electronic voting machine assigned to each precinct.

Eric Sani­atan, 23, spent more than two hours in line at Kaleiopuu Elementary in Waipahu to cast his ballot. Paper ballots had already run out at the polling place by 5 p.m., when Sani­atan arrived.

“People complain how Hawaii has the worst voter turnout, but yet they’re running out of ballots,” he said. “How do you run out of ballots? It’s something that needs explanation.”

The problems delayed the first printout of election results for hours.

Rex Quidilla, state elections office spokes­man, apologized and said officials were trying to determine what went wrong.

“In the light of day, we’ll be able to examine it more closely,” he said. “The most important thing is people got to exercise their right to vote.”

Meanwhile, Louise Kim McCoy, spokes­woman for the governor, said the state would “assess what happened” to avert a similar problem.

Reports of shortages of paper ballots started cropping up at about 3 p.m.

As more polling places ran out, election officials pledged to rush more to sites and ensure that those in line by 6 p.m. would get to vote.

The ballot problems were islandwide, from Holy Trinity Church in Kuli­ouou to August Ahrens Elementary in Wai­pahu and from Wai­anae Intermediate to Kai­nalu Elementary in Kailua.

At Maili Elementary, voter Debra Jacobs said dozens of people opted not to wait to cast a ballot.

Some voters drove into the parking lot, saw the line and turned around.

“This is just ridiculous,” said Jacobs, 56, as she waited to vote. “This is just uncalled for.” She said people in line were “pretty disgusted … and angry.”

The polling site at Holy Trinity Church ran out of ballots at about 4:20 p.m. Polling officials issued 1,500 numbers to people in line so they could get their turn.

Around 5:15 p.m., a supply of 900 ballots arrived, and volunteers scrambled to distribute them to a patient but irritated throng.

Carolyn Macina was given a relatively high number (No. 71) before leaving to walk her dogs. She returned around 5:45 p.m. to find hundreds of other voters crowding check-in tables inside the church gym.

“They said they didn’t anticipate so many voters showing up,” Macina said. “Excuse me? Don’t you pay attention to how many registered voters there are?”

At Waianae Intermediate, Mary-Elizabeth Nati­vi­dad, 32, said the line to vote at the electronic machine was so long some people were leaving without voting.

“People are actually walking away,” she said. “They’re not going to get to vote.”

Ballots ran out at Ala Wai Elementary at about 3 p.m., but more arrived about 30 minutes later.

Eddie Wheeler, chairman of the polling place, said he had been calling election headquarters since 10 a.m. to ask for more ballots because they were running low.

He said the problem has to be fixed before the next election.

“This is a big thing considering that this is one of the hottest elections,” he said.

The Green Party of Hawaii charged the voting problems may have affected the outcome of close races, and was calling for an investigation. Lance D. Collins, Green Party attorney, said Hokulani Elementary ran out of ballots at about 1 p.m., and a fresh supply didn’t arrive until four hours later.

“What is the remedy for the hundreds of people who were not able to vote?” he asked.

Earlier, voting at the state’s 233 precincts had been proceeding fairly smoothly.

Before the ballot shortage, Qui­dilla said there had been minor problems for voters who didn’t participate in the Aug. 11 primary.

This is the first time Hawaii voted after reapportionment, which takes place every 10 years, and “some of their polling places have been changed,” he said.

At 7 a.m. almost all of the 142 polling places on Oahu, 40 in Hawaii County, 35 on Maui and 16 on Kauai opened on time.

The only exception was Mililani High School, which opened 10 minutes late because of “a misunderstanding” during the initial setting-up process,” Qui­dilla said.

State election officials were especially concerned about operations in Hawaii County, where they took over the operations after losing confidence in the ability of County Clerk Jamae Kawa­uchi.

But there didn’t appear to be any big problems in Hawaii County this time around.

Thirteen precincts opened late during the August primary because of missteps, which were blamed on Kawa­uchi. That led Gov. Neil Abercrombie to extend voting hours in Hawaii County by 90 minutes. It was the first time since 1966 that polling hours were extended. Some polling places on Oahu had their hours extended in 1966 because of bad weather. The delays eroded public confidence in the system.

Star-Advertiser reporter Michael Tsai contributed to this report.

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