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More than 6,700 ballots mailed in

Voters who haven’t received one should call Clerk’s Office

By COLLEEN UECHI, Assistant City Editor

More than 6,700 Maui County residents have already cast their ballots through the new all-mail voting system, according to the County Clerk’s Office.

County Clerk Kathy Kaohu said that 6,732 ballots had been returned as of Tuesday, while another 1,329 had come back as “undeliverable.” Of the 8,061 ballot envelopes that the county has received, 103 did not contain signatures; ballots without signatures do not count.

Kaohu said that the county has mailed out all 90,010 ballots. Voters who have not received theirs by now should contact the Clerk’s Office at 270-7749.

“We’ve gotten quite a few returned to sender,” Kaohu said. “The Postal Service by federal law is not allowed to forward election mail, and so even if there’s a forwarding address with the post office, they’ll send it back to us. . . . So we hope to capture that voter when they call our office.”

While the shift to voting solely by mail is new, Maui County voters have already shown a tendency toward mail-in voting over the years. During the 2010 primary election, 10,919 of the 28,870 votes cast were absentee (mail-in) ballots, or 37.8 percent. During the 2018 primary election, 21,123 of the 34,105 votes cast were by mail, or 61.9 percent.

The same shift has also happened during general elections, when turnout is usually higher. In Maui County, the percentage of absentee ballots among the total turnout rose from 33.5 percent in 2010 to 54 percent in 2018.

However, this year the county is mailing out a lot more ballots, and trying to keep track of the people who may have moved or been affected by COVID-19.

“One of the unique things that’s happening as a result of COVID is a lot of our students who are attending universities abroad usually have their ballots set up to be mailed to their school address,” Kaohu explained. “This year everyone just packed up their stuff and got out of town and returned home. They probably didn’t think that their ballots were going to be mailed to their school and that ‘I better change my address.’ Hopefully, they’ll call our office as well.”

The county has already run into one unusual glitch that impacted several voters.

Haiku resident Jennifer Karaca said she recently moved from Makawao, and that while her ballot was delivered to the right address, it contained the races for her old district.

Karaca, an executive assistant for council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, said she called the County Clerk’s Office and notified them of the problem. They were “super proactive” and were able to pull the names from the system that were experiencing the same issue and notify them, she said.

Karaca said that while there “might be some bugs” in the first year of all-mail voting, she thinks the system will be beneficial in the long run.

“A lot of people really do enjoy absentee ballots, which is mail-in voting anyway,” she said. “So now it just kind of creates that ease for everyone, especially right now during the pandemic, that’s a nice option to have.”

Kaohu said that the Clerk’s Office found about 10 people who got the wrong ballot at the right address. Those original ballots had to be canceled so the office could mail out new ones.

While Maui County is collecting the ballots, they won’t be opening them. The county has a ballot equipment machine that will verify the signatures on ballots and sort them by district and precinct. (If a ballot is missing a signature, the county will ask the voter to come into the office and sign it.)

Then, the ballots are sent to a counting center team run by the state Office of Elections, located in the county building separate from the Clerk’s Office.

“They’re going to be reading the ballots but not tabulating until after 7 p.m. on Aug. 8, after all the voter service centers have closed and all the places of deposit have locked up,” Kaohu explained.

Just as in past elections, they will tally the votes and issue printouts with results throughout the night.

According to the Office of Elections, voters should return their ballots by mail three to five days before the election. Ballots can also be dropped off at designated deposit locations or the Clerk’s Office, which is located at the county building, 200 South High St., Room 708, Wailuku.

Deposit locations will be spread out across the county. For hours of operation at each location, visit elections.hawaii. gov/voter-service-centers-and-places-of-deposit/.

Each county will also have voter service centers available for in-person voting, same-day voter registration and collection of completed ballots. These centers will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday from July 27 to Aug. 7 and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 8 at the following locations:

• Velma McWayne Santos Community Center, 395 Waena St., Wailuku.

• Mitchell Pauole Center Conference Room, 90 Ainoa St., Kaunakakai.

• Lanai Police Station Conference Room, 855 Fraser Ave,, Lanai City.

Ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

For more information, contact the County Clerk’s Office or the Office of Elections by email at elections@hawaii.gov or by phone at (800) 442-VOTE (8683), toll free from the Neighbor Islands, or visit elections.hawaii.gov.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@maui news.com.

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