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Polling sites quiet as absentee voting gains popularity

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  • (Video by Rosemarie Bernardo /

    Precinct volunteer Shirley Yamauchi, volunteer at precinct 42-01 at Kapolei High School, talks about seeing lower turnout this year over previous election years.


    Volunteer election day officials opened ballots on Friday in a hallway on the chamber level of the state Capitol.


    Volunteers worked on the floor of the Senate chamber.


    Increased mail-in and early voting meant mostly light work at polling stations on Saturday. Many booths were empty at Kapolei High School.


    There were 17 same-day registrants at Manoa Elementary School, and their registrations were confirmed in five to 15 minutes, said precinct chairman Robyn Loudermilk.

With more absentee mail-in ballots sent to voters this year compared to the last primary election two years ago, precinct officials on Saturday reported a quiet day across Oahu with fewer lines and fewer problems.

“It’s slow, very slow,” said Virginia Maimon, precinct chairwoman at the Campbell High School polling site in Ewa Beach. “This is my fourth election cycle, and this is the slowest I can ever remember.”

This year, elections officials sent out more than 238,000 absentee ballots, compared to more than 191,000 for the 2016 primary election, said Nedielyn Bueno, voter services section head for the state Office of Elections.

The result was that more ballots were accounted for by 3 p.m. Saturday than at the same time during the last primary election: 34 percent versus 27 percent in 2016, Bueno said.

She called Saturday’s election “pretty quiet.” At many of Oahu’s 144 polling sites, that meant volunteer precinct workers had a relatively slow day.

In previous elections, voters stood in line to cast ballots at Kapolei High School. But on Saturday, no lines materialized and the 14 volunteer precinct workers outnumbered the number of voters present for most of the morning.

“I’ve never seen it this slow,” said volunteer Shirley Yamauchi, a teacher at Kapolei Middle School.

Four volunteers did not show up at Campbell High School, but they weren’t needed.

The precinct was armed with eight boxes of unmarked ballots. By 3 p.m., precinct workers needed to open only two of them.

For the first time, people across Hawaii’s 235 polling sites were allowed to both register to vote — and vote. While people took advantage of the opportunity, it did not seem to cause any unusual delays, Bueno said.

There were “no reports of anything major from the polling places,” she said.

Elections officials had trouble contacting precinct workers in the morning, but all of the polls opened on time at 7 a.m., Bueno said. One malfunctioning voting machine each had to be replaced at Jefferson Elementary School and Radford and Kailua high schools, Bueno said.

“The polls were all able to open on time,” she said. “A couple machines had to be swapped out, which we did as quickly as possible.”

Volunteer workers at Kapolei High School were confronted with a voting machine that froze, until a troubleshooter came out and resolved the issue, said precinct chairman Gregory Patterson.

“It freezes up when the voter is trying to cast their ballot,” Patterson said. “We undid that.”

At the McKinley High School cafeteria, precinct chairwoman Laura Nagasawa said there was a problem with a machine that issues codes to ballots to be cast electronically. The machine smelled of smoke and had to be replaced.

“It totally shut everything off,” Nagasawa said.

The process to get a replacement and install it took about an hour.

Even with small turnouts at some polling sites, new people showed up to register to vote.

The process meant that volunteers had to call the Office of Elections’ control center to confirm the people they registered were at the correct polling site.

Kapolei High School volunteers ended up redirecting five of them to other precincts to cast their ballots.

Kapu Yates, 29, of Ewa, took advantage of the same-day registration to vote at Ewa Makai Middle School. Yates called the process “simple and quick.”

By noon, about a dozen others joined Yates in both registering and voting at the site.

Precinct chairwoman Sandrina “Ilima” L. De La Cruz said, “I’m glad we’re doing it. We should have been doing it a long time ago.”

Kaanelaokapuuwai B.L. Pakaki-Pias, 18, who just graduated from Kapolei High School, registered to vote Saturday for the first time at her old high school cafeteria, four days before she leaves for Portland, Ore., to attend Lewis & Clark College.

“I didn’t have to go to satellite city hall,” Pakaki-Pias said. “It was right here and straight from registration I can go and put (in) my vote.”

There were 17 same-day registrants at Manoa Elementary School, and their registrations were confirmed in five to 15 minutes, said precinct chairman Robyn Loudermilk.

Even with new people registering, Loudermilk said the overall turnout appeared to be smaller than in previous years.

At Kapolei High School, Yamauchi hoped the light turnout reflected greater mail-in voting and not voter apathy.

“If all the absentees are really following through, that’s great,” Yamauchi said. “Hopefully they all voted absentee. I’m hoping.”

At Waimanalo Elementary School, volunteer Deborah Smith saw some parents bring in their young children to witness democracy in action.

“A lot of people here brought their little kids and shared the voting process, which is kind of cool,” Smith said.

Staff writers Leila Fujimori, Timothy Hurley and Michael Tsai contributed to this report.

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