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Voters endure long lines to cast ballots

  • Video by Leila Fujimori / lfujimori@staradvertiser.com

    Oahu voters waited in a long line at the Honolulu Hale on Election Day to cast their ballots.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA/CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                A line snaked around Honolulu Hale at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday as voters waited for their opportunity to cast their ballots in the general election.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA/CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A line snaked around Honolulu Hale at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday as voters waited for their opportunity to cast their ballots in the general election.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA/CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Once inside Honolulu Hale, voters took their turn at the machines, above.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA/CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Once inside Honolulu Hale, voters took their turn at the machines, above.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA/CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM 
                                Lahiki Coelho of Kailua, above right, waited in line with her son, Kaikea, age 8. Coelho said Kaikea was interested in the voting process this year. “He can’t wait to vote,” she said. While many submitted their ballots by mail or at drop-off locations, in-person voting drew long lines at Honolulu Hale and Kapolei Hale on Tuesday.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA/CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Lahiki Coelho of Kailua, above right, waited in line with her son, Kaikea, age 8. Coelho said Kaikea was interested in the voting process this year. “He can’t wait to vote,” she said. While many submitted their ballots by mail or at drop-off locations, in-person voting drew long lines at Honolulu Hale and Kapolei Hale on Tuesday.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                A long line of voters snaked outside Kapolei Hale on Tuesday as hundreds waited for the chance to cast their ballots in person in the general election.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    A long line of voters snaked outside Kapolei Hale on Tuesday as hundreds waited for the chance to cast their ballots in person in the general election.

Long lines of Oahu voters at both Honolulu Hale and Kapolei Hale held up the entire state’s release of election results Tuesday to determine key races, including Hawaii’s preference for the next U.S. president.

By 10:30 p.m. — more than three hours after the scheduled close of island voting — county and state election officials still had no idea when the last voter standing in line would be finished voting, triggering the release of statewide election results.

“It’s only Oahu,” said Nedielyn Bueno, spokeswoman for the state Office of Elections. “It’s very fluid right now.”

At 9:30 p.m. a line of voters continued to stretch around the back of Kapolei Hale, said Rex Quidilla, the city’s election administrator.

“A lot of people are still at Kapolei Hale,” he said. “The line is considerable. It’s moving but it’s been an overwhelming reponse. It’s just not moving as fast as anyone wanted it to be.”

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

By law the state cannot release results of an election until all polls are closed. The Kapolei Hale polling place did not close until the last person in line at 7 p.m. was able to vote.

The ever-evolving line of voters began queing up in the morning and continued to stretch outside of Honolulu Hale and Kapolei Hale all day. The line was made up of Gen Z’ers, millennials, baby boomers, senior citizens, first-time voters and veterans who patiently waited in masks to make their opinions known about the U.S. presidential election and local races.

Many parents, including 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.”

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 every member participates.

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

The line 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.

With fears of 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 problem by midday was 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 best to address the COVID-19 pandemic and how to improve both the local and national economies, which affect Hawaii’s tourist- dependent economy.

Even before Election Day, several island voting rec-ords 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 lifelong 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.”

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

He works in the hotel industry, 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 in 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 taught 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 by his girl-friend, 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 girl-friend 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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