Sunday, September 19, 2004

A list of registered voters was posted yesterday at Hokulani Elementary School.

Voter turnout
weak in isles

Absentee balloting sets record

Absentee balloting in yesterday's primary election was the highest ever in Hawaii, but election officials said they did not expect the total voter turnout to be strong.

More than 73,000 people cast absentee ballots, according to the first printout yesterday -- already higher than the record total absentee turnout of 69,544 in the 2002 election.

Primary Election 2004



But of those ballots, a little more than 6 percent, 4,685 ballots, were invalidated because people voted for candidates in more than one party.

Voters cast ballots for a new Honolulu mayor, prosecutor, Congress and some key contested primary races in the House, Senate and the Board of Education.

By early evening, elections officials were predicting a total voter turnout of about the mid-40 percent, which would still be above the 41.1 percent turnout in 2002, among the lowest in the nation.

Voters said they cast their ballot because it was their "patriotic duty," but only a few expressed a strong passion for candidates or issues.

"It's a very unexciting election," said John Sender, who voted at Royal Elementary School.

Officials reported a few problems with mail-in absentee ballots being disqualified and with complaints from people who received ballots late. There were also some problems with the new electronic voting machines.

But elections officials and observers said the voting seemed to go smoothly for the most part.

The high number of ballots disqualified because of cross-party voting may be due to the high number of mail-in absentee ballots.

Election machines on election day and for walk-in absentee voters will reject disqualified ballots to give voters another chance to fill out the ballot correctly.

Mail-in voters must take a little more responsibility to follow instructions, said Office of Elections spokesman Rex Quidilla.

He acknowledged that some voters complained about mail-in ballots being late -- even arriving on election day -- which he attributed to the large number of mail-in ballots that had to be processed.

This was also the first election where eSlate electronic voting machines made by Hart Intercivic were used. The elections office got the machines as part of a $5 million federal grant to provide better access to handicapped voters.

The machines were available to all voters.

Greg Hogue said he tried to vote using the new machine at an Enchanted Lake precinct, but ended up not being able to vote for the candidates he wanted to.

Hogue said the machine flashed a low battery indicator after he selected his party. The machine then flashed a "cast ballot" indicator and his ballot was accepted before he was able to vote for anyone.

"I really wanted to vote," he said. But after two hours of conversations with precinct officials and state elections officials, he was not allowed to fill out a back-up paper ballot and not allowed to re-do his electronic vote.

"I'm really pissed because my vote is canceled," he said. "I don't think they (elections officials) are ready for this (electronic voting)."

Quidilla said he was not familiar with Hogue's case. But that some problems with a new voting system were to be expected.

He said early reports from precincts indicated that few people used the machines.

The machines were also part of the reason that the release of the first results were delayed by more than a half-hour last night. It took longer to close polls because some workers did not know how to shut down the machines properly.

But Quidilla and Chief Elections Officer Dwayne Yoshina also said that they received a report from a precinct in Manoa where a blind woman cried after being able to vote for the first time by herself because the machines give audio instructions. Quidilla said precinct workers applauded her after she voted.

Lydia Lake, precinct chairwoman at Waimanalo Elementary School, said the eSlate machines failed before 8 a.m., and the trainer for the machine could not get it working. A worker brought a paper ballot to a disabled voter in his car, she said.

She said the challenge was trying to get people to vote within one party. They had 25 spoiled ballots in the first hour.

Tugalei Soa, a polling place worker, said she realized she had voted for both Republican and Democratic candidates on her mail-in ballot. "I didn't even look," she said. She was allowed to cast a new ballot yesterday and her mail-in ballot was pulled out.

Ewa Beach Elementary School also had problems with people casting ballots in more than one party. About 20 percent to 30 percent of the ballots were spoiled in the first two hours, and problems continued throughout the day, said a pollwatcher.

One man said he didn't want to vote for anyone, and was allowed to cast a blank ballot at the precinct.

Another voter insisted on voting both Republican and Democrat, a pollwatcher said. The polling place workers had to allow him to push the "accept" button on the ballot machine, despite being told his vote would not count.

State Elections Office





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