ELECTION 2020: County battles rumors as ballots arrive at mailboxes

  • NAKAMOTO

As ballots began trickling into Hawaii Island mailboxes Wednesday, traveling much faster was a false social media rumor about how many stamps are needed to mail it back.

Hawaii County Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto said her office hadn’t received phone calls Wednesday morning about whether stamps are needed. But she emphasized that false rumors are a threat to a successful election.

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“This type of misinformation on social media can disrupt the elections. We want to encourage voters to vote on their mail ballots,” Nakamoto said. “Having incorrect information circulating on social media may discourage voters from returning their voted ballots. We want to encourage voters to vote and return their ballots by mail.”

The rumor circulating on Facebook in Hawaii as well as other states in all caps stated falsely that two stamps are needed and added, “Make sure this gets passed on!” Some states and municipalities do require stamps on return ballots, but Hawaii’s not one of them.

“I want to make it absolutely clear voters do not need to place a stamp on their return envelope,” Nakamoto said. “All return envelopes are postage paid.”

This is the first year Hawaii’s going to an all-mail ballot and the county and state have been working hard, with an expanded advertising and education budget, to explain the process to voters. Ballots must be returned by mail or dropped off at collection boxes or voter service centers by the end of day Aug. 8, Election Day.

Still, there are bumps in the road.

A glitch in the process means some voters who updated their voter registration information after July 9 might get two ballots in the mail — the original ballot and then a corrected one. The original ballot has been invalidated, so the voter needs to send in the ballot with the updated voter registration information, Nakamoto said.

Nakamoto said the Elections Division will contact those voters to explain the process. It was not immediately known how many voters changed their registration information late.

“The voter must vote on the second ballot. If they mail in the first ballot that ballot will not be validated and will not get processed for counting,” she said. “I would like voters to know that this is not an error; it is because they updated their information after July 9.”

County voter registration of 111,848 is down so far from the 113,083 registered to vote in the 2016 primary, the most recent presidential election year, when registration is typically higher. The state Office of Elections was still compiling numbers Wednesday and couldn’t immediately provide a statewide count.

Voter registration ended July 9, but same-day voter registration will begin July 27 at voter service centers.

Meanwhile, a more than 60-year-old Hawaii tradition is being sidelined by COVID-19. This year, there will be no traditional Grand Rally, where the public and the Democratic Party faithful scoop up chili and rice, munch musubi and hot dogs and cheer on their federal, state and local candidates in a statewide primary eve pep rally at Mooheau Bandstand in Hilo.

This year, the rally’s going earlier and virtual. Slated for 4 p.m. Saturday, the online event will include more than 50 candidates from the top of the ticket to legislative and countywide races, said Virtual Grand Rally Chairwoman Gerri Kahili. The event can be viewed on Spectrum Channel 53 or online at naleo.tv/channel-53/.

It also will concurrently be streamed on the Hawaii County Democratic Party’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HICountyDems.

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“Taking the Grand Rally ‘virtual’ is a huge transition but will make it more accessible and relevant to all voters because it will be available for safe, convenient viewing before they receive their primary election ballots in the mail about July 21,” Kahili said in a Facebook statement.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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