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Turnout hits highest levels in over 20 years

65.6% exceeds past presidential elections

Ballot drop boxes are available at the voter service centers at the Mitchell Pauole Conference Room in Kaunakakai, the Lanai District Council Office in Lanai City and the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku. Free-standing places of deposit are available on Maui at seven fire stations in Hana, Wailea, Kihei, Makawao, Kula, Napili and Kahului; three community centers at Haiku, Paia and Lahaina Civic Center; the county building in Wailuku; and inside the Aloha ‘Aina Center near Island Paws in Haiku. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

In a politically charged climate of pandemic and protests, Maui County voter turnout already has reached its highest level in 20 years, according to county and state election data.

County Clerk Kathy Kaohu said that 61,302 of the 92,711 ballot envelope packets sent out had been returned as of Monday evening. Of those ballots, 794 had mismatched or no signatures and 318 had been resolved, leaving 476 pending.

The 60,826 ballots with no issues give Maui County a 65.6 percent turnout on the eve of the election, a marked improvement over the 2018 general election when turnout was 52.4 percent.

“I’m pleased with the turnout, and not quite surprised because our voters have been leaning toward mail-in ballot preferences for quite a while now,” Kaohu said.

She added that the presidential race and events on the Mainland have spurred more turnout as well, prompting people to be “really embracing the right to vote.”

“Folks are taking it seriously,” she said. “I see that a lot more than in past years.”

Participation tends to be higher in general elections than in the primary, and especially so when the president is up for election. Over the past two decades, Maui County turnout has always surpassed 56 percent during a presidential election, with the exception of 2000, when turnout was 54.1 percent, according to state Office of Elections data. Maui County’s highest general election turnouts in the past 20 years were 61.6 percent in 2004, when George W. Bush was reelected, and 61.1 percent in 2008, when Barack Obama won the office.

Election officials and observers had also expected Hawaii’s switch to voting by mail to boost turnout. The 2018 general election was the first time over the past two decades that absentee turnout had surpassed precinct turnout (28.3 to 24.1 percent). Voting by mail was not only a trend in the works but a natural option during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it’s too late to put ballots in the mail, residents can still register and vote in person today at voter service centers. The Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku, the Mitchell Pauole Center in Kaunakakai and the Lanai Community Center in Lanai City will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. Deposit boxes located at several community centers and fire stations across the county will be open through 7 p.m. today.

All ballots must be signed and received by 7 p.m. in order to count. Postmarks do not count.

“We’ve processed a large number of what has been received already, and I know the Office of Elections, their goal is to get as much of the ballot results in the first printout,” Kaohu said.

At 7 p.m., voter service centers and drop boxes will be closed. Voters in line for either will still be allowed to cast their ballots. Election workers will then secure the ballots in transport containers and bring them back to the counting center in Wailuku to be processed.

“Those definitely won’t be in the first printout if it’s an early printout because we have teams driving from West Maui, from Upcountry,” Kaohu said.

Ballots being flown in from Molokai and Lanai and driven in from East Maui will likely arrive in Wailuku around 9 p.m., Kaohu said.

Results will be available throughout the night at elections.hawaii.gov/election-results/ or via local media.

The Maui News will be providing up-to-the-moment results with photos on its website, www.mauinews.com.

Akaku, which usually hosts a stream of candidates throughout the night, will instead host its first-ever virtual general election coverage from 7 to 11 p.m., or “even later as the drama unfolds,” Director of Government Access Chivo Ching Johnson said in a news release.

The program will feature candidates and guests virtually from locations all across Maui Nui via Zoom. Kathy Collins and Johnson will anchor the show, while Deidre Tegarden, Kainoa Horcajo and special guests will provide expert analysis. The broadcast will appear on Akaku cable Channels 53, 54 and 55; Facebook live; or at akaku.org. Viewers can also tune in via the new Akaku app or on the radio at KAKU 88.5.

To register for the Zoom webinar, visit akaku.org/elections. The first 100 people to register will be able to ask questions and participate in on-air polling during the “live” broadcast.

Maui radio station KAOI will also air election coverage starting at 2 p.m. with national election results from CBS Radio. KAOI will start coverage of local election results at 7 p.m. from its Wailuku studios, hosted by Cindy Paulos and Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, followed by all-night coverage for delayed reporting results with NBC News. KAOI Radio broadcasts on 1110 AM, 96.7 FM, 98.7 FM and 96.5 FM on the west side.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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