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County: More than 25,000 mail-in ballots in so far

Confrontations at voter service center prompt staff to call police twice

Paia’s Jocelyn DeCoite (center) is assisted by sister Albertnette Vierra and temporary election clerk Pat Green while casting her ballot Tuesday afternoon at the Maui County Voter Service Center at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku. DeCoite, who is legally blind, waits as her completed ballot is read by a verity scan machine. “I believe in voting because we have say,” she said. “If you don’t do that, don’t grumble.” Vierra said the civic duty was instilled in them at an early age by their father, Albert DeCoite. “As soon as we turned 18 he told us to register to vote,” Vierra said. The center is scheduled to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A total of 25,606 mail-in ballots had been received in Maui County as of Thursday night, trailing the 2020 primary election turnout as Election Day rolls around.

“It’s quite possible if voters mobilize and do their thing, get their ballots in by 7 p.m., we can maybe meet or even exceed” the 2020 numbers, Maui County Clerk Kathy Kaohu said Friday afternoon.

Maui County’s turnout in past primary elections has steadily improved, going from 29.6 percent in 2016 to 36.2 percent in 2018 and 42.7 percent in 2020, when 43,873 out of 102,835 registered voters cast their ballot.

The primary election two years ago was the first time the state shifted to all mail-in voting,

with voters receiving their ballots by mail and returning the signed ballots by mail or to deposit boxes or voter service centers.

On Friday, confrontations at the voter service center at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku prompted staff to call police as residents raised questions over an affidavit they’d been asked to sign.

Wailuku resident Ayin Adams said she received her ballot by mail but preferred to vote in person. At the voter service center, she was given an affidavit to sign that asked for her name, driver’s license number, residence and other personal information. The form also asks voters to affirm they are U.S. citizens and Hawaii residents who are at least 16 years old and haven’t yet voted in the election.

Ayin was confused because she’d already registered to vote and had filled out similar paperwork in the last primary election. She said she tried to offer her ID instead but that they wouldn’t accept it.

“I think after 40 years of living on the island, I’m registered to vote, and I’m in the system, why are we redoing the work over and over again?” Ayin said.

When she and others started to ask why they had to fill out the form and what the information would be used for, she said that staff couldn’t answer her questions, “became irate” and called police.

“The mission is supposed to be professional towards the public. That did not occur,” Ayin said.

She added that there are not nearly enough machines at the voter service center to accommodate all the voters who want to cast ballots in person.

Kaohu said Friday that the affidavit isn’t new and predates Hawaii’s shift to voting by mail. It was issued to residents who wanted to vote at early walk-in centers or who wanted to spoil their original ballot and have a new one reissued.

“We kept it as part of our protocol to ensure that we’re able to match the information that the voter includes on this document with the information of government databases such as the driver’s license or the Social Security on our voter registration databases,” Kaohu said. “And so it’s a way to compare the information we have already with the person standing in front of us.”

The affidavit isn’t included in ballots mailed to voters because “the fact that they received their ballot package in the mail means they’re determined to be a registered voter.”

It is, however, required, for people who are asking to surrender their original ballot and get a new one or who want to forgo the paper ballot they received and vote electronically instead.

“Those are not just things we can do arbitrarily,” Kaohu said. “We need the signed permission of the voter. That’s part of the role that this affidavit plays. … No one voter should ever have two live ballots in their possession, and this affidavit helps us ensure that as well.”

Kaohu said that staff at the voter service center may have been automatically giving the affidavit out to people in line, even though some of them might not have needed it.

When voters confronted staff over the affidavits, Kaohu said staff called police because they “were starting to get fearful of what was unfolding, and it was even interfering with voters who were in the booths casting their ballot.”

After the voter service center closed at 4:30 p.m., some people came and pounded on the windows, which prompted staff to call police a second time, Kaohu said.

“This isn’t the elections that Maui County knows or deserves,” Kaohu said. “It used to be a time-honored tradition when the neighborhood would come together at the polling places and cast their ballots, and this kind of behavior is not acceptable.”

Doors are set to reopen at 7 a.m. today at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center and close at 7 p.m. in coordination with the rest of the state. Kaohu said that anyone in line prior to 7 p.m. will be brought inside to complete whatever services they need.

Voter service centers are also open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Mitchell Pauole Center in Kaunakakai and the Lanai Community Center and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hana High and Elementary School.

For a full list of voting and deposit locations and hours, visit elections.hawaii.gov/voter-service-centers-and-places-of-deposit/.

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

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