Ballots pouring in: 41% of Hawaii County voters have already voted

  • Daniel Olsen feeds envelopes into the ballot sorting machine Aug. 4 in Hilo. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

Some 41% of Hawaii County’s more than 127,000 registered voters had already voted by Friday, with 11 days to go before the Nov. 3 general election.

The county began ‘preprocessing’ ballots Saturday. Ballots mailed in or deposited at sites around the island are run through a massive machine that checks the thickness to ensure they contain ballots, slices them open, time- and date-stamps them, verifies signatures and sorts them by precinct.

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Elections Division workers then transfer the sorted ballot envelopes to bins, where they’re parked in locked cages until they make the trip to the counting center, where another machine reads and tallies the votes. Two officials sign and record the seal number on a seal certification form securing the ballots.

The preliminary vote counts are secured inside the counting machines and votes will be added to them through Election Day.

“No report gets printed,” county Elections Division Administrator Pat Nakamoto said Friday. “We’re not going to find out any results until Election Day.”

Hawaii County’s turnout tracks the statewide average. As of Thursday, the state had received more than 344,000 ballots, a 41.4% turnout, said Nedielyn Bueno with the state Office of Elections. In comparison, the 2016 presidential election had a total turnout of 58% at both the state and county level.

The state and county are offering multiple ways to vote in the state’s first al-mail general election.

If you plan to mail your ballot back, do so by Tuesday at the latest, to ensure it reaches the Elections Division on time. The ballot has to be received — not postmarked — by 7 p.m. Nov. 3.

Ballots can also be dropped off at boxes — called “places of deposit” in the law — through Election Day. Ballots are collected daily. Drop boxes are located at the Hawaii County building in Hilo, Naalehu police station, Pahoa police station, Rodney Yano Hall in Captain Cook, Waimea police station, North Kohala police station, Laupahoehoe police station and the West Hawaii Civic Center.

Ballots can be taken to a voter service center, where people can also register to vote, exchange spoiled ballots for fresh ones and vote in person using equipment that is physically accessible to eligible voters with disabilities and elderly voters. There are two voter service centers on the Big Island: Aupuni Center in Hilo and the West Hawaii Civic Center in Kailua-Kona, open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 3, Election Day.

You can check to see if your ballot has been received by logging in at https://ballotstatus.hawaii.gov.

Recent reports on social media about people receiving ballots in the mail addressed to someone who doesn’t live there, or even someone who died, isn’t a cause for alarm, Nakamoto said. The voter registration list is not made up from scratch each election, but is added to and purged as people join the rolls, die, move away or commit felonies.

The state Department of Health notifies the county elections offices when someone dies in state, but out-of-state deaths may not be caught. The Post Office is supposed to return undeliverable ballots to the elections offices so they can purge names from their rolls, but that doesn’t always happen. People who receive someone else’s mail, whether it’s a ballot or something else, should return it to the post office.

The bottom line, though, Nakamoto said, aren’t the ballots that are sent out. They’re the ballots that are submitted to the Elections Division. Without a valid signature, they won’t be counted. And if someone has already voted, any subsequent ballots won’t be counted, she said.

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“We will accept only one ballot in the system,” Nakamoto said. “The system won’t accept any more.”

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

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