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Hawaii Democrats gather on Big Isle to make last pitch

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Lieutenant governor candidates Bernard Carvalho, left, Kim Coco Iwamoto, Jill Tokuda and Josh Green faced the crowd Friday.

HILO >> Hawaii Democrats gathered Friday night at the Mooheau Bandstand in downtown Hilo for the traditional party rally in advance of the main event of the 2018 election season, which is today’s primary voting.

Gov. David Ige and his leading challenger, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, each said in interviews they feel confident in the final hours of a hard-fought primary election, but both predicted a relatively low voter turnout.

Hanabusa said absentee voting has been lagging somewhat behind 2016, and said she believes absentee voters tend to be the most committed participants in elections.

For his part, Ige said he suspects some voters were turned off by a barrage of negative advertising late in the campaign, much of which was aimed at derailing Ige’s run for re-election to a second term.

A super political action committee called Be Change Now financed by the Hawaii Council of Carpenters has committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertising that is critical of Ige’s leadership, including his handling of the ballistic missile false alert on Jan. 13.

Despite the sharp edges in some of the campaigning, speakers at the rally stressed the Democrats’ ability to pull together after the primary is finished.

“One thing that you can know for sure, once we finish our election, once tomorrow happens and we all come together, we’re going to continue to need your energy and your kokua and your support,” said U.S. Sen Mazie Hirono.

The polls open at 7 a.m. today and will close at 6 p.m., although anyone in line at 6 p.m. will be allowed to vote. For anyone who is unsure where to vote, election officials are urging the public to visit elections.hawaii.gov to identify their polling places. Sample ballots are also available at that website.

State election officials say voters heading to the polls today should be prepared to provide proof of identification, which can include a valid photo ID, a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or other government-issued document that shows the voter’s name and address.

The Democrats’ Grand Rally at Mooheau has been a party tradition since 1954, when party officials were unable to secure the Hilo Armory for their pre-­primary rally. The Democrats seized control of the state House and Senate in that election, now known as the “Democratic Revolution of 1954.”

Most voters have cast their ballots already through walk-in or mail-in absentee voting, but an array of candidates in Hilo were eager to make a final pitches for support before the final voting today.

Ige cited his administration’s efforts to boost the economy of Hawaii island by investing in infrastructure and clearing the way for international flights to resume at Kona airport, while Hanabusa reminded a crowd of about 400 people of the importance of voting for women.

“If there’s anything Donald Trump has done, it is to empower women,” she said. She recalled the women’s marches across the nation after Trump’s inauguration, adding, “It was to say that women will no longer be held down.”

Voting in the primary has becoming increasingly important over the years as the Republican Party in Hawaii has grown weaker, but the number of people participating in Hawaii primary elections has generally declined over the past 20 years, and dropped to less than 35 percent in 2016.

The Republicans were also unable to field candidates in 33 of 51 state House seats, and were unable to run any candidates for eight of 13 state Senate seats that are up for grabs this year. In those races where no Republican is running, the Democratic primary almost always determines the outcome of the election.

People who requested mail-in ballots have until 6 p.m. today to submit their ballot to any polling place within their county. Ballots must be received by the clerk’s office by 6 p.m. today to be counted, and ballots postmarked today but not received by the clerk’s office by 6 p.m. will not be accepted.

Residents can register today to vote in the primary election, but election officials warn that people registering at the polls might experience increased wait times. Those who register today will be required to complete a registration affidavit form and await confirmation of their correct polling place, which might cause some delays.

Election officials are urging voters who plan to register today to confirm the location of their polling places in advance, and bring identification with them. For more election and voting information, visit elections.hawaii.gov or call 453-VOTE (8683).

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