2014 Election: Low island voter turnout is forecast

Two longtime Maui political observers don’t expect a high voter turnout at the polls today, even as Tropical Storm Iselle fizzled and polling places are expected to open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., as usual.

“I think a lot of people have voted; those that were intent on voting,” said Wailuku attorney and former state legislator Tony Takitani. “I think when you see the first printout that will be very telling.”

Takitani said he had a feeling that turnout would be low because he saw no one in the County Clerk’s Office last week for the early walk-in voting. Usually he is not the only one voting early at the clerk’s office, but his time he was, he said.

Former University of Hawaii Maui College economics and geography professor and community political forum moderator Dick Mayer said that more and more people are voting absentee early, and he expects that trend will decrease numbers at the polls today.

The Kula resident added that, with Hurricane Julio still lingering near the islands, that also might play a part in low voter turnout.

“Some people may be concerned about Julio coming in,” Mayer said, noting those people may want to prepare for another storm and it “may affect whether they go out and vote.”

During the last primary election, in 2012, Maui County had the lowest voter turnout of Hawaii’s counties, at 30.6 percent. The state had the lowest voter turnout in the nation in 2012, with a primary election turnout of 42.3 percent.

Maui County has 34 polling places in six representative districts. Voters need to show identification and then sign a poll book to verify that they’ve received a ballot.

Takitani and Mayer couldn’t say if the storms or low voter turnout would affect any particular candidate or political race.

Takitani said campaigns that are better organized and make a get-out-the-vote effort for their candidates probably will do well.

“Ones that did that should have an edge,” he said, although he wasn’t personally aware of any campaign launching such a voter drive.

Takitani predicted that Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui of Wailuku would “do incredibly well in Maui.”

“He has a record with us here. . . . We know his work,” he said.

Controversy surrounding construction of the state’s Central Maui Sports Complex near the Maui Lani subdivision should not affect Tsutsui, Takitani said, although neighboring residents have opposed the park’s development at its current location.

Tsutsui has led the push for the park that has been years in the making. Those objecting to the park have come out late in the park’s development stages but contend that the park’s development has flaws, including inadequate environmental assessments and other issues. Neighbors also fear the bright lights, noisy ballgames, congested traffic and decreasing property values.

Takitani did not predict how Tsutsui would fare statewide. Tsutsui’s main opponent in the Democratic primary is Oahu Sen. Clayton Hee, who is believed to have more statewide name recognition, particularly on Oahu.

Takitani also did not prognosticate on the fate of Maui County political contests, but he said that the state House District 9 (Kahului, Puunene, Maui Lani and Old Sand Hills) race will be interesting to watch.

That features political newcomer and incumbent Justin Woodson against former Maui County Mayor and County Council Member James “Kimo” Apana in a winner-take-all Democratic race. Other parties did not field a candidate for the seat in the heavily Democratic district.

Takitani said that he was “shocked” to see that many of the union and other endorsements went Woodson’s way, despite Apana having a “well-known” name.

The election features another House district race that will be settled in the Democratic primary. State Rep. Mele Carroll is attempting to fend off a challenge for her House District 13 (East Maui, Molokai and Lanai) from Molokai resident Barbara Haliniak.

“We hope there is a lot of interest (and) a lot of people come in and exercise your right,” said Maui County Clerk Danny Mateo.

There are more than 85,000 registered voters in Maui County.

Only a fraction of them turned out to do early walk-in voting, which ended Thursday. Mateo said that early walk-in voting on Maui and Molokai drew 2,474 people. That is slightly higher than the 2,192 people who took advantage of walk-in voting in the 2012 primary election in Maui County, said state Office of Elections spokesman Rex Quidilla.

Mateo said that a state elections official had anticipated a higher number for the second week of walk-in voting. In Maui County, walk-in voting was held from July 28 through Thursday at the Kalana O Maui building in Wailuku and in Kaunakakai.

He also expected more people to turn out for early voting Thursday with the storm looming. But, he said, the shutdown of county offices in Wailuku may have turned voters away.

“Some people came and saw the doors were locked. Even though we had signs, they didn’t want to go down around and up,” Mateo said, noting that people needed to take the elevators from a basement to reach the clerk’s seventh-floor office.

Four hundred and thirty people voted Thursday, he said. Mateo did not know how many absentee ballots have been returned. The county mailed out more than 18,500 ballots.

On Friday, the County Clerk’s Office accepted absentee ballots until 2 p.m.

Elsewhere in Hawaii, voting will be postponed at two Big Island polling places because of storm damage to roads and power outages, state Attorney General David Louie said. About 8,000 affected voters will be able to cast absentee ballots later.

Statewide marquee races include Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who faces a strong challenge from state Sen. David Ige. A recent poll showed Abercrombie trailing Ige.

During recent televised news coverage of Hurricane Iselle, Abercrombie was often present during newscasts, but the governor stressed that his emphasis was on dealing with the storm.

“I have not had a single word or consultation with that. I have absented myself from that completely,” he said of campaigning.

Still, the extra TV time could give Abercrombie a boost against Ige, who has offered himself as an alternative to voters unhappy with Abercrombie’s perceived confrontational style. Ige promised in a campaign flier that “there will be no name-calling when I disagree with anyone.”

Democrats have been divided over Abercrombie’s decision to appoint Brian Schatz, his former lieutenant governor, to the seat left vacant by the death of former U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye in December 2012. Inouye had wanted Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa to succeed him.

Hanabusa is challenging Schatz for the Senate seat, and seven Democrats are vying to replace her in her U.S. House seat.

* The Associated Press contributed to this report. Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.