Many still buck early voting trend

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Election lines are long and inconvenient. So is dodging across parking lots in the rain, which drenched East Hawaii on Saturday nearly all day.

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Election lines are long and inconvenient. So is dodging across parking lots in the rain, which drenched East Hawaii on Saturday nearly all day.

But that didn’t deter Alec Richardson. The 26-year-old Hilo resident skipped all early voting options this year and instead trekked out on a soggy primary election day to cast his ballot in person.

“I think elections should be something that builds the community,” Richardson said Saturday, minutes after voting at Hilo High School. “And when you send in a form from home, you’re not really participating in the community as a whole. I think coming in is a way to build community.”

On Monday, days before the primary election, more than 15 percent of Hawaii County’s 109,957 registered voters had already voted, either by mail or at an early vote site. Statewide, that number on Monday was about 8,000, down from 10,000 in 2014. But poll workers said early voting remained popular this year — though the election day crowd would beg to differ.

Voters Rita and Roland Medley, 71 and 66 respectively, told the Tribune-Herald they’re “old school” and “just like to do it (in person).”

And 74-year-old Liva Sethofer said casting a ballot in-person isn’t inconvenient — she lives very near her Puna-based polling site anyway.

Poll workers also said electronic voting machines were more popular this year than in the past, though they’re not yet “a runaway,” said Anthony Adams, chairman of Hilo High School’s precinct one polling station.

“The written ballot still by far outweighs the electronic ballots,” Adams said.

“There’s still something about people picking up a piece of paper and actually filling in the candidate … when you get out and make the effort, you feel like you’re participating.”

At Keonepoko Elementary School in Puna, where storm damage from Tropical Storm Iselle postponed the election in 2014, voter turnout this year appeared lower than usual, one poll worker said. Hawaiian Beaches resident Sarah Hoohuli was among the trickle of voters casting a ballot early Saturday afternoon at Keonepoko. She said she remembers 2014 well. The 43-year-old is a regular voter, but in the 2014 primary, she lost electricity and was stuck at home. This year, she said, the rain wasn’t going to keep her away.

“I figure if I want my voice heard and I want the (candidates) I’m hoping for to make it to the next round, then it’s best I come in and at least try,” Hoohuli said. “I figure I may as well. And hope for the best.”

Polling sites this year also had fewer bodies on hand to help. In July, the county was short about 148 precinct workers, causing election officials to worry it could have a domino effect statewide and ultimately delay results.

Hilo High School, among the largest precincts in the county, had 17 workers on Saturday, about five short of their ideal number. Adams said the crew on site was operating smoothly, however, and he anticipated being fully staffed for the general election.

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“We really haven’t been burdened,” he said. “We have enough people to cover every station that needs to be covered.

“We try to make voting fun,” he continued. “People might think of it as a burden but no it should be fun. We take our jobs seriously and do the job as we need to do it, but we also want to keep it kind of light and make it fun for people. Because we want everyone to have a good experience so they’ll want to come back in November.”

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