Democratic voters who were both buoyed — and discouraged — by this year’s presidential hopefuls from both parties packed polling sites Saturday, hoping to influence the outcome of the November general elections.
Many lifelong Democratic voters such as Moiliili resident Bob Mielke — a 69-year-old retired adult correctional sergeant at Halawa prison — had never participated in a party preference poll until he and his wife, Marjorie, 70, voted Saturday.
As Manoa Elementary School’s cafeteria swelled to capacity an hour before voting began, Bob Mielke joined others who believed billionaire businessman Donald Trump’s continued front-runner status on the Republican side helped spur the Democratic turnout in Hawaii.
“I credit Trump for that,” Mielke said. “It is good for the country that people are getting more involved.”
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi joined the scrum inside the cafeteria and said the crowd far overshadowed the 30 or so people who turned out for the last Democratic poll at Manoa Elementary four years ago.
“This is wonderful, it’s fantastic,” Kobayashi said. “People are hoping to have a voice and want to change government.”
Katie Fout left Kailua Intermediate School without voting after about 45 minutes of being told to stand in what turned out to be the wrong lines. She called the scene “complete chaos.”
Fout has voted with Democrats in Ohio and North Carolina, but has never seen crowds like she did on Saturday.
She and her husband, a Marine stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, moved to Kailua four years ago and Fout was “impressed” by the turnout at Kailua Intermediate, despite her frustrations.
“Being a Democrat in a red state like Ohio, there’s not too many people there voting, so I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people there, so that’s a good thing,” Fout said. “But the lack of organization kind of made me embarrassed for the (Democratic) party.”
Ron Fitzgerald, 50, said he was told he couldn’t vote when he arrived at Highlands Intermediate School in Pearl City around 2:45 p.m. because the polls closed an hour and 45 minutes after they opened.
But Fitzgerald and others were allowed to cast provisional ballots later. Democratic Party officials will decide later whether to count them.
“It was really frustrating,” said Fitzgerald, a teacher and Pacific Palisades resident.
Highlands Intermediate closed its polls around
2:20 p.m., and officials shut the doors to the cafeteria around 3:15 p.m.
At Manoa Elementary, Tanya Kapuy, 34, of Makiki brought her 3-year-old son, Styles, to vote in her first preference poll and hoped her son absorbs the process.
“There’s so many issues nowadays,” Kapuy said.
But Kapuy said her anti-Hillary Clinton bias — and concerns over the “crazy candidates” on the Republican side — inspired her to come out Saturday to support U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
David Giles, a 27-year-old research assistant at the University of Hawaii, declined to say which Democrat he supports but said, “Whether you’re anti-Clinton or anti-Sanders, this is a pretty big choice. It’s pretty interesting that so many people are voting.”
Deane Neubauer, 78, a retired University of Hawaii social sciences dean, waited to cast his ballot with his wife, Keiko Sakuma-Neubauer, 65, and both contend the gridlock in Washington, D.C., over the next U.S. Supreme Court justice symbolizes the frustration among voters across the country.
“People have been motivated in a way that they haven’t been in a long time,” Neubauer said. “They have a government that doesn’t work at the federal level between Congress and the executive branch.”
But far beyond the stalemate over the next Supreme Court justice, Neubauer said, “This election has woken up this generation to realize the issues of income inequality and the absence of job growth.”
Sakuma-Neubauer called it her “civic duty” to participate in Saturday’s caucus.
Outside Aliiolani Elementary School’s cafeteria in Kaimuki, Daniel Wasserott, a 35-year-old dive boat captain and scuba instructor, finally emerged from the crowd nearly an hour after the polls opened.
“It’s slow,” he said, “just slow.”
An hour before voting began at August Ahrens Elementary School in Waipahu, more than 50 people waited in two lines.
And the parking lot was so packed at Highlands Intermediate that voters had to park at nearby Pearl City District Park and trek uphill to the school’s cafeteria.
Matthew Ross, a 37-year-old commercial fisherman and Pearl City resident, sported a blue Hillary sticker on his shirt, even though he said his politics tend to lean Republican.
“Hillary is the best choice,” Ross said. “She’s the most moderate choice.”
State Rep. Gregg Takayama (D, Pearl City-Waimalu-Pacific Palisades) also was surprised by the turnout among Democrats at Highlands.
“The good thing,” Takayama said, “is the Democrats have an abundance of candidates.”