State election officials first heard that three Hawaii island polls had opened late, then 11 and — finally — as many as 25, delaying election results across the islands.
The problems for a first-time Hawaii County clerk on election night represented Saturday’s biggest primary election glitch.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he issued a proclamation keeping all 40 Hawaii island polls open at least an extra 90 minutes Saturday night on the advice of Attorney General David Louie because "people may have been discouraged from voting. It’s an inconvenience is what it is. It’s not a complete detriment to voting."
The delay in closing Hawaii island polls — which had to remain open as long as a voter was in line by 7:30 p.m. — meant state officials could not release any election results as long as any polling place remained open.
The first printout of election returns was time-stamped at 7:37 p.m. but was not released publicly until just after 8 p.m. Despite the delays from Hawaii island, subsequent election results proceeded relatively smoothly, with later printouts arriving a few minutes ahead of schedule Saturday night.
But state elections officials on Oahu still had not heard from Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi by 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
"She’s busy at this point," Chief Election Officer Scott Nago said. "She’s taking care of business."
Nago said elections officials will conduct a debriefing this week of the Hawaii island problems.
By the third printout of the night, Hawaii island officials had results from only 24 out of 43 precincts.
All 250 precincts around the state were accounted for in the last printout at about 11 p.m. The final election results were not expected until this morning.
Of the 687,500 voters statewide, 286,674 had voted as of the final printout, amounting to a 41.7 percent turnout.
The latest that Hawaii island polls opened was 8:30 a.m. — 90 minutes beyond their scheduled 7 a.m. opening, Nago said.
Nago did not immediately know where most of the late-opening polls were located on Hawaii island, but said the initial reports were clustered on the west side.
Hawaii’s remaining polling places — 15 on Kauai, 35 in Maui County and 142 on Oahu — all closed within a few minutes of one another. 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.
Abercrombie’s proclamation to keep Hawaii island’s polls open was not without precedent.
In 1996 then-Gov. Ben Cayetano issued a similar proclamation because of heavy rain, Nago said.
Nago said only the governor can order polls to remain open. Abercrombie said his proclamation applied only to Hawaii island because initial reports were that "every other polling place opened on time."
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," Hawaii Republican Party Chairman David Chang said in a statement. "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."
Just before 9 a.m. Saturday, Kawauchi said the opening of a 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 issued only two email news reports Saturday — at 3 and 8:25 a.m. — despite earlier promises that her office would issue periodic election bulletins throughout the day.
At 4:30 p.m., Kawauchi issued a third brief message saying Hawaii County polling hours would be extended to 7:30 p.m., but did not offer any explanation.
Hawaii island attorney Brian DeLima, a member of the state Board of Education, said he became aware of Hawaii island polling delays when Tulsi Gabbard congressional campaign supporters complained Saturday morning they weren’t able to vote.
DeLima, whose daughter is the Hawaii island coordinator for the Gabbard campaign, said he was frustrated by his inability to get information regarding which precincts opened late.
"I don’t appreciate the lack of communication and transparency from our county clerk," DeLima said. "I don’t think it builds confidence in our elections process. I think most people have come to rely that the elections are going to be conducted in an efficient and accountable manner. The reports that indicate that voter registration rolls were not present when sent to the precincts means no one checked.
"Somebody needs to be held accountable for that failure."
Quidilla said election officials did not know how widespread the problems were on Hawaii island until Abercrombie’s proclamation, which was issued before 3 p.m. Abercrombie’s proclamation said more than half of the polling places had trouble opening at 7 a.m., but did not specify locations or an exact number.
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," Abercrombie said.
The biggest problems were reported in West Hawaii, where precinct workers weren’t able to find polling books. Three polling places were missing the books, which contain the names of people registered to vote at that site.
Before Saturday’s problems were discovered, state election officials complained publicly that they were having problems communicating with Kawauchi and her office over reports of problems with preparations.
On Kauai 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, said Lyndon Yoshioka, spokesman for the Kauai County clerk.
Kauai County Clerk Jeff Kuwata also reported that were no major problems reported by county officials at its 25 polling places.
On Oahu, Quidilla said there were "startup problems" with three electronic voting machines at Calvary Chapel of Honolulu, Aiea High School and Mililani High School, but all were quickly resolved.
In Maui County there were no problems at polling places, where 84,042 were registered to vote at Maui’s 35 polling places, Maui County clerk’s office reported.
Star-Advertiser reporters Craig Gima and Leila Fujimori contributed to this report.