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Voters in Hawaii endure long lines to cast ballots

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                                Voters lined up at Honolulu Hale today.


    Voters lined up at Honolulu Hale today.

An ever-evolving line of voters stretched outside of Honolulu Hale and Kapolei Hale on Election Day as Gen Zers, millennials, baby boomers, senior citizens, first-time voters and veterans patiently waited in masks to make their opinions known about the U.S. presidential election — and who they think is best qualified to improve both the local and national economies.

Many parents, such as Lahiki Coelho of Kailua, brought their children for the first time to stand in line to see for themselves how American democracy works.

Coelho’s 8-year-old son, Kaikea, “was very interested this year and asking a lot of questions, like, ‘What’s going to change? What’s going to happen if so and so wins?’” Coelho said.

“I told him that everyone has their own opinion,” she said. “He can’t wait to vote.”

>> PHOTOS: COVID-19 doesn’t stop Hawaii from taking part in Election Day

Amy Milani, 47, of Hawaii Kai, has been telling her 8-year-old son, Bash, that American democracy is like an ant colony that works best if ever member participates.

So Milani brought Bash to see her vote for the first time, along with the message from mother to son that “Every vote counts. Your vote counts.”

The line often stretched out of Honolulu Hale, then mauka and all the way to the back of City Hall. Voters experienced the same phenomenon at Kapolei Hale, where the line stretched behind the building throughout the day.

“The lines are long,” said Rex Quidilla, the city’s election administrator. “We expected the lines would be long because people want to exercise their right to vote. It’s taking a little longer because of the strong turnout, but people are being patient. And we’re seeing a lot of first-time voter registration. It’s a good thing to see.”

With fears of so-called voter intimidation, Honolulu police officers had a visible presence at both of Oahu’s voter service centers where people could both register and vote in person, as well as drop off their mail-in ballots.

The only problems by mid-day were the continuing appearance of voters showing up in campaign clothing and buttons, which has been occurring every day leading up to Election Day, Quidilla said.

“When we explain to them that they can’t have that on in the polling place, we get voluntary compliance,” he said. “Everyone’s been quite patient.”

Honolulu voters joined record turnouts across the country driven by similar concerns over who will lead the nation for the next four years, how to best address the COVID-19 pandemic and improve both the local and national economies, which affects Hawaii’s tourist-dependent economy.

Even before Election Day, several island voting records had fallen.

In August, Hawaii voters set records for registered primary voters at 795,248 and votes cast in a primary, 380,152.

Three weeks before the general election, another record was set of more than 832,000 registered voters across the state. Hawaii had never seen 800,000 registered voters — the previous record was established in the 2018 general election at 756,751.

Then last week, a record 313,320 votes already had been cast on Oahu, setting a Honolulu record.

The record turnouts have been driven by a variety of factors, particularly the hotly contested presidential race, but also by the convenience of this year’s first effort at all mail-in voting across Hawaii.

Voters across the islands had the option to cast their votes weeks ahead of Election Day and then pop their ballots in the mail, or deposit them at a drop-off location, while also having the option to vote early in person at Honolulu Hale or Kapolei Hale.

But several life-long voters, such as Elise Martin, 32, of Kailua, said they prefer the ritual of showing up to vote on Election Day.

“It’s important to be here,” she said. “I don’t care if I have to wait three hours.”

Deborah Norden, 53, of Kahala, said, “I prefer voting in person. I expected the lines to be long because of all of the hooplah going on and everybody’s voting. It’s like a personal accomplishment to me.”

Michael Inouye, 53, and his wife, May, 44, of Kapahulu showed up at Honolulu Hale — along with their 7-year-old daughter, Maykayla— to cast their first ever ballots.

He works in the hotel industry and she’s in the restaurant industry and both are out of work because of COVID-19.

They saw voting for the first time as something positive they could do.

“We need our economy up and our jobs,” May said.

Michael said the couple wanted to bring Maykayla to see her parents vote “so she understands the importance.”

Other first-time voters included Michael Kimber, 21, of Laie, who was only 17 and ineligible to vote when President Donald Trump won his first term.

“The last thing I want to do is not vote and then complain,” Kimber said. “Too much of my generation does that.”

Bethany Osborn, also 21, of Palolo, was able to vote in the last presidential election at her former home in North Carolina.

While North Carolina’s electorate has been politically divided this year, Osborn said she has not seen any voter anger on Oahu.

“I’ve only seen aloha,” she said.

Osborn, who owns her own small swimsuit company, said she was raised by her grandparents and parents that it’s every citizen’s obligation to vote.

So she was willing to stand in line outside of Honolulu Hale to cast her second vote in her lifetime.

“I keep hearing people my age say all the time that voting doesn’t matter,” Osborn said. “I was raised that it does matter.”

Sam Ramsey, 58, of Kakaako, was especially motivated to vote on Tuesday by his girlfriend, Atsuko Sekido, 53, who immigrated from Japan, became a U.S. citizen and believes it’s every American’s obligation to vote. She voted by mail before Election Day.

Ramsey made a kicking motion and said, “My girlfriend said, ‘Go vote!’”

“She feels very strongly about voting, which is great,” Ramsey said. “I joke that she’s more American than some Americans.”

Ramsey briefly ended up at the end of a long line of people waiting to vote at Honolulu Hale and said, “I don’t know what I was prepared for. But I was prepared to vote.”

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