County voter turnout low; spike for walk-in, absentee

KAHULUI – Voter turnout at several polling locations in Central Maui on Saturday appeared down from the last election cycle, but absentee and walk-in voting in Maui County were up 34.5 percent, elections officials reported.

Polls were open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

At Pomaika’i Elementary School in Kahului, precinct Chairwoman Stacey Moniz said voting was slow.

“Our first voter did not show up until 7:15,” she said, noting that usually there would be a line of people waiting outside for the precinct to open.

Also, four of her nine staffers did not show up for work. But it wasn’t a problem because the polling area wasn’t busy.

“Lucky, it matches the flow,” Moniz said, pointing out that her personnel were enough to handle the few voters casting ballots.

Moniz said that she wanted to see more voters. “It’s such an important election. When we don’t vote, other people make decisions for us.”

Around 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Moniz said approximately 200 people had voted.

More than 500 people had turned up to vote at Iao Intermediate School on Saturday, a voting official said at 4 p.m.

That number was slightly less than voter turnout for the 2012 primary election, said Deborah Takahashi, precinct chairwoman.

Saturday’s polling went smoothly and there were no problems with identification this year, she said.

“Everyone’s attitudes have been good,” Takahashi said.

Wailuku resident Evie Chargualaf said that the threat of storms didn’t affect her decision to vote this year. “I always vote,” she said.

“Every vote counts, and I want to exercise my right to vote. In other countries, women or certain people don’t have the right to vote, so it’s important,” Chargualaf said as she exited the polls.

The polls at Maui Economic Opportunity headquarters in Wailuku were quiet most of the day, voting officials said.

Only about 120 people had come in to vote by 5 p.m.

Noreen Kahele, polling site chairwoman, said that voter turnout at the MEO site in the last election was twice as much.

This year’s low turnout was “most likely” due to recent tropical storm weather, she said.

At Lihikai Elementary School, precinct Chairwoman Annie Au Hoon said it was “really slow,” but there were “little sprinkles here and there” of voters coming in.

She hoped that no-shows had already voted by absentee or walk-in. She said her precinct has approximately 2,000 registered voters.

Like Moniz, Au Hoon indicated she was disappointed with the lower voter turnout.

“If you want your people to get in, it’s the primary that counts,” she said.

Around 5 p.m., 370 people had voted at Lihikai. Au Hoon said she was hoping to reach 500 by the end of the day.

Zach and Heather Edlao of Waikapu said there were fewer people at the polls this year when they showed up to cast ballots late Saturday afternoon at Pomaika’i Elementary.

“I was hoping more people vote,” said Zach Edlao.

The couple agreed that some kind of incentive such as food could entice more people to come out and vote.

Another Waikapu couple, Phyllis and Neil, who declined to give their last names, noticed the slow pace at Pomaika’i.

“I think it’s going to be a record lowest turnout ever,” Neil said as he walked out of the cafeteria.

One voter at Lihikai Elementary School, who didn’t want to give his name, said that he has been consistently voting for the last several elections.

He said he pulled the Republican ballot so he could vote for gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona.

“We got to get our state back to God’s way,” the Wailuku resident said.

Aiona believes in God and shares his views, he said.

Moniz agreed with fellow poll workers that the drama of Tropical Storm Iselle and the possibility of people voting early may have played a role in the low turnout.

Last week, the state was under severe weather alerts with two incoming hurricanes. Hurricane Iselle, downgraded to a tropical storm, passed through Maui County on Friday, and Hurricane Julio was forecast to pass 200 miles north of the state today with “minimal impacts,” according to National Weather Service meteorologists.

“I think a lot more people this year went into the county building for walk-in absentee voting,” Takahashi said.

Absentee voting through mail and walk-in sites was up more than 12 percent for Hawaii’s primary election, with nearly 160,000 people casting ballots early and even more absentees expected with Saturday’s results.

An Associated Press analysis of early voting in all four counties shows the increase in early voting easily outpaced a 1.4 percent increase in registration over the 2012 primary election.

Maui County had the highest increase with early voting with 34.5 percent.

As of late Saturday afternoon, it was unclear whether voters preferred absentee ballots to voting Saturday – 49 percent of turnout was early voting in 2012.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at Eileen Chao can be reached at