Voter turnout up in Central, South and East Maui

Maui voters turned out in greater numbers Tuesday, at least compared with anemic results during the Aug. 13 primary election, according to reports from polls at the Haiku Community Center, Maui High School, Kihei Community Center and Kihei Elementary School.

In spite of a broken machine, the Haiku precinct drew an “unbelievable” turnout, officials said.

“It’s huge. It’s unprecedented,” Gregory Unabia said Tuesday afternoon. Unabia has been a Maui voter assistance official for over a decade.

“Today is really good,” said Dawn DeRego, precinct chair at Maui High School in Kahului.

Unlike the primary election when only around 228 people showed up to vote, DeRego said the pace was brisk for most of the day with one lady showing up to vote at 6:30 a.m., half an hour before the polls opened at 7 a.m.

“We were steady until 10:30 a.m.,” DeRego said.

Kihei Community Center Precinct Chairwoman Patricia Domingo said voter turnout was the most she has seen since she started working the South Maui polling location about four or five elections ago.

“It’s almost triple the last primary,” Domingo said about an hour before the polls closed at 6 p.m. “At 10 ‘o clock, we already had over the end results of the primary. We were very elated.”

By mid-morning at Haiku, Unabia said he “already knew” it was going to be a busy day. From 7 to 9 a.m., about 200 to 300 people passed through, according to Nadine Newlight, the Haiku voting chairwoman.

But then, the ballot machine broke down. Because Newlight wasn’t sure the machine had properly counted that morning’s votes, she “made an executive decision” to set the ballots aside and send them to the state Board of Elections to be counted by hand later on. The machine was replaced, and from 9:30 a.m. to around 5 p.m., 1,417 voters had turned in ballots, Newlight said.

Haiku voter Cleo Wilson said she chose Green Party candidate Jill Stein for president because she believes in the popular vote and grass-roots movements. However, she said it was more the local candidates and county issues that brought her to the polls.

“I’m really enthusiastic about local government shifting,” Wilson said. “Everybody seems to really be paying attention to local issues. <\q>.<\q>.<\q>. It feels like more of a community than ever before.”

Husband Ben Wilson said he was concerned about jobs, wages and cost of living, and voted for all candidates endorsed by unions.

“Affordable housing has been a boondoggle,” Ben Wilson said. “People talk about it but when it comes down to it, they don’t do that much. I just want people to really solve that problem.”

Another Haiku couple, Chenta Laury and Stefan Schaefer, said they voted for Hillary Clinton, and as parents of a 9-year-old daughter, were excited about the potential of a first woman president.

“I feel like the nature of politics is about compromise and finding incremental change,” Laury said. “I feel like (Clinton) understands that.”

Some of the local issues that concerned Schaefer were development, parks and diversifying Maui’s economy. Schaefer said he did “quite a bit of research” on the ‘Ohana Coalition, a slate of county council candidates pushing an environmentally and agriculturally focused platform. While he didn’t vote for all of them, he said the coalition’s focus on sustainable and smaller-scale agriculture “makes sense.”

At Maui High at many times during the day, in the morning and around 4:30 p.m., all 14 paper ballot stations and one electronic voting station were all occupied. One station was left open for handicapped voting.

“It’s so nice to see the polling places full,” DeRego said.

“It was really crazy,” she said around 4:30 p.m., of most of the day.

A ballot counter at the Maui High polling site showed that 438 people voted with paper ballots around 4:45 p.m. DeRego reported that there were 54 people who voted electronically. The total was more than double of the voters who showed up in the primary.

DeRego said she thought there were more voters who showed up on Tuesday because of the steady and sometimes brisk pace of voters that streamed into the Maui High gym.

The presidential race and Maui County Council seats probably motivated more people to show up at the polls on Tuesday versus the primary election when voter turnout was light.

Voter Joy DeLima said the presidential race was the big draw for her in this election. She said she voted neither Democratic nor Republican and cast her ballot for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, instead, as the best candidate in her opinion.

DeLima said she turns out to vote every election to “show people it’s important.”

She brought her 4-year-old daughter Emma with her.

Emma, who attends preschool at Grace Bible Church, voted in an election at the school where candidates were animals, her mother said.

A man who said he goes by the name “Neo” voted at Maui High School. The 49-year-old who previously lived in China said he turned out to vote because “this is the last time to see if democracy works.”

For the presidential race, he voted for Stein for president.

“I hope I didn’t throw my vote away,” he said.

As for the Maui County Council races, he said he voted for the ‘Ohana Coalition. The coalition is mostly made up of candidates aiming to unseat council incumbents and focus on the culture and the environment.

“They are they only ones that can do anything,” he said.

At Kihei, Domingo said the precinct saw a steady flow of voters at the community center, including first-time voters and those who missed the online deadline to vote. She proudly bought “I voted stickers” for her precinct, which she said voters “loved” and proudly wore it as they walked out.

“I think social media has woken people up to who their leaders are and are getting involved with the whole process,” she said.

Polling official Tony Ramil was “quite impressed” with voter turnout at the Kihei Elementary School precinct and believed it was the most he has seen in the 15 years he has been there. He said many voters came to vote for their presidential candidate, but also for their local officials.

Kihei resident Matt Boone voted for Republican Donald Trump, saying he liked his ideas, but “I’m crossing my fingers.”

“I know he can put his foot in his mouth a lot, but still the guy’s a smart man and hopefully it works,” Boone said. “I think with Hillary it’s going to be the same thing over and over. The changes might be good or they might not, but what the heck, it’s going to be a change. Might as well go for something different.”

Kihei resident Meredith Merdzinski voted for Clinton, saying she “registered my needs for the community” more than Trump. Boyfriend Eric Carlson also cast a vote for Clinton and both “hopped and skipped” their way to the center after work, when they saw she was down in polls at around 5 p.m.

“We saw the election and came right down here to play our part,” Carlson said. “I just felt like she was the better choice between the two and felt more confident with what would happen to the future with the other candidate.”

Kihei resident Imelda Reyes said she voted for Clinton at Kihei Elementary School primarily over women’s rights. She said she left work a little early to vote after seeing Clinton trailing Trump in the polls.

Reyes, 27, said this was her first presidential election as a voter and has only recently looked into politics, which she said she believes her generation and millennials also have done.

“A lot of people my age who are friends with me are really trying to be more informed, which I think is really important before you go and vote,” she said.


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