Some voters waited in line for nearly three hours Tuesday afternoon as COVID-19 precautions slowed the voting process in Hilo.
By 6 p.m., a line of people snaked around the Aupuni Center Conference Room, barely moving every few minutes as individual voters were admitted into the polling station. One hour later, when the polls closed, more than 100 people were still in line.
One voter, Tessa Domzalski, said she arrived in line at 4:30 p.m. One and a half hours later, there were still about a dozen other voters ahead of her yet to be admitted, and scores more waiting behind her.
“I had seen the line earlier today and I knew it wasn’t going to be a 30-minute wait,” Domzalski said. “I knew it would be a long one.”
Vlad Pryakhin said he already voted weeks ago in Massachusetts, but was accompanying a friend as he waited for more than two hours to vote. Pryakhin said he had not anticipated such a long delay, and that staff at the polling location did not explain to voters the reason for the delay.
However, an election official said the delays were an inevitable result of having an election during a global pandemic.
Hawaii County Elections Program Administrator Pat Nakamoto told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday night that COVID precautions necessarily created a bottleneck at polling locations.
For one thing, Nakamoto said, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Aupuni Center Conference Room has limited the number of people allowed inside at any given time since the beginning of the pandemic. Polling booths also were spaced out to maintain social distancing guidelines, limiting the number of people who could vote at the same time, and digital temperature checks were conducted on everyone seeking to vote.
“And every voter needs to be checked in,” Nakamoto said. “A lot of time, they don’t have up-to-date registration information, so we have to double-check that so that we can give them the right ballots. Voters may be under the impression that you can just walk in and vote, but there’s more of a process than that.”
Nakamoto said the county had expected delays in the in-person voting process for some time.
“We have been encouraging voters for weeks to do mail-in voting,” Nakamoto said. “But voters do have a choice, and many of them chose to vote in person.”
While scores of voters were still in line when the polls closed at 7 p.m., Nakamoto said anyone in line would still be allowed to vote.
Polling places on Oahu also had voters in line waiting to vote after 7 p.m.
Because it’s the state’s policy not to release any election results until all voting statewide has finished, results were not available in time for the Tribune-Herald’s print edition deadline.
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