About two out of five registered voters took part in this year's primary election, bringing voter turnout to one of the lowest in Hawaii's history. People showed up to vote at St. Pius X Church in Manoa.

Isles’ voter turnout
near all-time low

Competing activities and confusion
caused by redistricting are partly blamed

By Helen Altonn and Rick Daysog |

Voter turnout remained low this year as about two out of five registered voters took part in yesterday's primary election.

With only a few votes left to count at 11:30 p.m. yesterday, the third printout of election returns showed a turnout of about 40.3 percent -- about 269,116 ballots cast out of 667,679 registered voters.

Kauai had the best turnout with 51.2 percent. Maui voter turnout was 35.9 percent. On the Big Island it was 40.2 percent. Oahu had 40.2 percent.

This was the second-lowest turnout for a primary election. The all-time low of 39.9 percent was set two years ago in the 2000 primary.

Earlier in the day, elections officials were predicting an even lower turnout.

Dwayne Yoshina, chief state election officer, said he was "very disappointed" with turnout, adding, "I just make the services available, and people can show up if they like."

Hawaii ranked last in the nation for voter turnout in the 2000 general election, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report, with a 44.1 percent turnout.

Lorraine Akiba, chairwoman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, attributed the low voter turnout to events such as the televised University of Hawaii football game and high school football games pitting Hawaii's top teams against California's best.

Akiba said she is comfortable that the voter turnout will improve for the Nov. 5 general election as party officials step up voter-education efforts.

"I hope to see the numbers increase for the general elections," she said.

Micah Kane, chairman of the Hawaii Republican Party, said he believes the low turnout shows that Hawaii's voters are discouraged by the Democratic leadership.

With the convictions and indictments of several high-profile Democrats during the past several years, many voters wonder if their vote will make a difference, Kane said.

"A one-party system just doesn't work, and it's evident in the failure of our education system and the amount of corruption that exists," Kane said.

Low turnout may have been exacerbated by confusion caused when redistricting changed the polling places for some voters.

Some people who wanted to vote yesterday left in disgust because they were not aware their polling places had changed.

"It's an issue of voters not paying attention to the yellow cards (with their polling places)," said election official Rex Quidilla, referring to information mailed to registered voters.

"We tried to raise awareness that 60,000 active voters would be affected by redistricting," he said, noting that the same thing happened in 1992 after districts were changed.

"My confusion is my fault," said a woman who asked not to be identified at the Manoa Recreation Center gymnasium.

She said she had received a yellow card but, she said, "I didn't really look at it. I threw it away."

She was headed for St. Pius X Church to see if her name was on the voter list after failing to find it at the gymnasium, Manoa Elementary School and Noelani Elementary School.

Older people especially were frustrated and irate when they could not find their names on the list, said an election worker at the Manoa school.

Some said they had voted at the same place since they were 21, she said, and a lot of them gave up after going to two precincts.

"We try to make sure a sign is out there, and people are there to provide correct instructions," Quidilla said. "We have citizen volunteers staffing the polls and trying their darndest to make sure everyone is giving service at the polls. They're doing a very good job when faced with a difficult situation."

Doug Smith of Kailua said many seniors and others who have lived near Aikahi Elementary School for years were turned away from that precinct.

"They are being told that this site, within walking distance of their homes, is for people on the military base located several miles away."

While he was there, he saw seven voters turned away and no military personnel, he said.

"The poll workers sat idle and the booths stood completely empty. The only poll resource being put to use was the harried election official in charge, Monica Meyer, who frantically called other polling places to tell people where to go.

"Not only did this demoralize and waste the time of the poll workers, who are in such short supply, it also discouraged the people of Aikahi Park from voting," he said.

Quidilla said a few precincts had a rough start but that overall the voting process was smooth.

The Election Systems & Software machines did not work in some cases, but response time was improved on the system, and when volunteers could not get a machine working, another one was delivered, he said.

The redistricting issue probably was the biggest challenge, Quidilla said.

After reapportionment, he said, "The precincting effort was to try to keep consistency between communities they serve, the district lines among various seats and ... to decrease the load on some precincts."

Some problems were unavoidable, but voters know where to vote now, he said.

"The general usually runs better," he said.

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