Two vehicle crashes that brought westbound H-1 freeway traffic to a crawl between Waikele and the airport prompted the Democratic Party of Hawaii to ask the state Office of Elections to keep polling places in affected areas open an additional hour, to 7 p.m.
The request was not granted.
Police reported two crashes — one near the Manager’s Drive overpass just after the Waikele offramp, and one near the Kamehameha Highway overpass, just past the H-1/H-2 Interchange and before the Waikele offramp.
Traffic at about 4:30 p.m. was so bad that westbound traffic was backed up to the Airport Viaduct on the H-1 side and Fort Shafter on the Moanalua Freeway side.
The exacerbated rush-hour delay meant that some West Oahu residents had no say in one of the most highly anticipated elections in recent memory.
A late crush of voters crowded the Ewa Beach Elementary School polling station in the final hour before closing, prompting precinct Chairwoman Doris Boushey to contact the state’s voting command center to request permission to keep the station open to accommodate late-arriving voters.
"We didn’t get it, so we had to close at 6 p.m.," Boushey said. "It was really hard to turn away people who had been stuck in traffic."
Volunteer Peter Wokoun Jr. said he had to turn away about 30 cars in the first five minutes after the site closed.
"There were a lot more people voting this year compared to two years ago, probably because of the two close races (for governor and U.S. House)," Wokoun said. "In the first hour and a half, the line was out past the parking lot. And in the last hour we had at least 400 people."
At Hokulani Elementary School, at the base of St. Louis Heights, turnout was slow but steady by midafternoon.
Precinct Chairwoman Marty Moriguchi estimated that about half of the precinct’s voters had already cast absentee ballots.
Statewide, more than 152,000 absentee ballots were cast before the polls opened.
Moriguchi said about two dozen voters showed up at the wrong polling place and were redirected. About eight or nine people who had voted at Hokulani in previous elections were directed to their new polling place at Kuhio School. The change was part of a consolidation of polling places to save money this year.
Cuauhtemoc Macias, 39, said he was voting for the first time because he thought this election was close and his vote could matter.
Macias voted for Democratic candidates. "I voted this time because I think people are a little bit disenchanted with the Democrats, and I don’t think it’s their fault," he said.
Ryan Edge, 20, considers himself an independent but voted Republican for governor and Congress. His main issues are education and federal spending.
"I agree with his (Aiona’s) policies more than Neil Abercrombie," Edge said.
When the polls opened yesterday morning, dozens were lined up at Jefferson Elementary School in Waikiki, said precinct Chairman Jeffrey Keating.
"There was a short line outside, but once we opened, everything went smoothly," he said.
For the most part, polling places around Hawaii opened on time with precincts across the state reporting "normal start-up issues," Office of Elections spokesman Rex Quidilla said.
"Normal for us means that maybe one (precinct) falls short and shifts (poll workers) from nearby. Polls open and voting starts," he said.
There was a minor problem with the ballot counting machine at Leilehua High School, Quidilla said. "But that was quickly fixed."
Another minor problem occurred because the ballot counting machines at Waipahu Elementary School and August Ahrens Elementary School were switched, he added.
More than two dozen voters were in line outside Manoa Elementary School cafeteria when workers opened the doors at 7 a.m., and architect John Vann was first in line.
Vann, 39, spent only 10 minutes in the voting booth.
"I used my best judgment," he said afterward, commenting on the charter and constitutional amendments. But "there was a lack of press on the amendments other than the school board," he said. "It is an injustice to the people not to have the press discuss all the issues."
Vann, who has lived in Manoa’s 24th District for the past year, said he chose to vote early because "I have plenty to do at work."
Standing behind him was Yoshiaki Kimura, a retired teacher, who said he also voted early to get it done.
Christina Iwaida, chairwoman for the precinct, said the polls there opened on time without any problems. "It’s better than the primary. We were shorthanded then but we made do. This time we have more workers," she said.
Waikiki residents Seraphin and Irene Sanchez, both retired teachers, chose to vote by absentee ballot because of the number of detailed City Charter and state constitutional amendments.
"You have the convenience and the privacy of your own home to confer with people," said Irene Sanchez, 68. "But I still had to reread them several times."
Her husband, Seraphin Sanchez, said, "It was still a difficult process."
Irene Sanchez admitted after reading her husband’s ballot before the couple dropped it off at Jefferson Elementary School that she forget to flip her ballot over and mailed it without voting for any candidates on the other side.