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Overnight vote counts bring surprises on day after primary election

Maui County turnout reaches 34.8 percent, lowest in the state

Joyce and Mike Miyamoto of Kahului stand in line to cast their ballots Saturday afternoon at the Maui County Voter Service Center at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku. They said their ballots did not arrive in the mail so they had to vote in person. “There’s a lot going on with the economy, inflation and the pandemic so we feel it is important to vote,” Mike Miyamoto said. “There is a lot going on.” The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — The last batch of ballots brought in late Saturday night made a big difference in some state and county races, with candidates who appeared poised for defeat leapfrogging back into contention.

A total of 28,488 ballots had been cast in Maui County as of the second report at 10:30 p.m. Saturday night, a dismal 25.1 percent turnout of the 113,427 registered voters. County Clerk Kathy Kaohu said Saturday night that results from the voter service centers on Maui, Molokai and Lanai could appear on the third report, as ballots from the Maui center came in late and county staff had just picked up Molokai and Lanai’s ballots from the airport shortly before 11 p.m.

The final ballots ended up pushing the total turnout to 39,493, or 34.8 percent.

In the Maui County Council race for the Makawao-Haiku-Paia seat, a gain of nearly 3,000 more votes in the final hours propelled Nara Boone into the second slot ahead of Dave DeLeon. As of 10:30 p.m., Boone had been trailing DeLeon with 4,865 votes to DeLeon’s 5,622 votes.

She finished with 7,608 votes with DeLeon not far behind at 7,258 votes as of 1 p.m. Sunday.

“I couldn’t sleep. I went to bed like at 2, 2:30,” Boone said. “It was like telling myself, stop checking for the latest update, and then I woke up early, so I still had some hours to wait, but I just thought it was incredible.”

DeLeon stayed up until about 11 p.m. waiting for results and had gone to sleep in the lead.

“I kept thinking it was too narrow to be going around and collecting congratulations before it was over,” DeLeon said Sunday afternoon.

In the Republican primary for the state House, Netra Halperin had been leading the race with 435 votes to Shekinah Cantere’s 391 votes as of 10:30 p.m. Saturday.

But by the next day, Cantere had vaulted into first position with 678 votes, a 21-ballot margin over Halperin’s 657 votes as of 1 p.m. Sunday triggering a recount today.

“I knew I would get closer because a lot of people voted in person that hadn’t tallied yet, and I was one of them that voted on Saturday,” Cantere said Sunday. “The anticipation was really intense, and I was very eager to find out.”

Turnout is typically low in Hawaii’s primaries and even more so in non-presidential election years. Maui County’s primary turnout this year was the lowest in the state, following Hawaii County at 41 percent, Honolulu County at 40 percent and Kauai County at 38.5 percent as of Sunday.

Still, Maui County had been seeing a rise in turnout in recent primary elections, going from 29.6 percent in 2016 to 36.2 percent in 2018 and 42.7 percent in 2020.

Kaohu said that some of the reasons for low turnout may have been voters who were “disillusioned with the process” and felt like “their votes were not gonna make a difference.”

She also said that there may have been an increase in relocated voters, with people moving to Hawaii during the pandemic or local people leaving the state. If their voter registration information didn’t get updated, it could impact the turnout, Kaohu said.

Most of the turnout came by mail, with 38,121 ballots cast, including 28,344 Democratic Party voters, according to results as of 9 a.m. Sunday. Republican voters had the second-highest turnout by mail with 7,278 ballots cast. In-person votes were most likely to come from Republicans, who made up 797 of the 1,372 votes cast in person in Maui County. A total of 485 Democrats cast ballots in person.

Despite the drop in turnout, the voter service center at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center was busy on Saturday.

“The line started forming at 6:40 a.m. It’s been a busy day,” Deputy County Clerk James Krueger said shortly after the close of polls at 7 p.m. as he waited for the final people in line to cast their votes. “The other days were pretty slow. Yesterday we had some, but today’s been by far the busiest.”

Lines were so long that some voters left and came back later, including Joyce and Mike Miyamoto of Kahului.

The couple said their ballots did not arrive in the mail, so they had to vote in person.

“There’s a lot going on with the economy, inflation and the pandemic so we feel it is important to vote,” Mike Miyamoto said.

Juliet Calpo of Wailuku said that she came to the voter service center on Saturday night because she preferred to vote in person. She said choosing candidates was difficult this year with the crowded races.

“It’s a very tough choice because with this world that we live in, especially now with the new norms and things happening in the world, it’s really difficult because they all have unique platforms,” Calpo said.

She said there were some candidates she was leaning towards but changed her mind because they couldn’t explain their solutions to important issues like homelessness, housing, education and infrastructure.

“I was looking for answers that are more specific than just general,” Calpo said.

Vince Castaneto, who has to work three jobs to afford his “sky high” rent in Pukalani, said that housing was the biggest issue as he casts his vote.

“Housing is the number one issue for everybody, especially for kanaka or people who have lived here forever or were born and raised here, then they’re being forced out of their homes … to go move to the Mainland,” Castaneto said.

Castaneto said he was voting “for the candidate that makes the most sense to me,” not just someone who’s most popular on social media.

“Someone who has the experience and the leadership to make a difference, and someone that’s young too. … I’m looking for a lot of young people that understand the needs that’s gonna affect me 10, 15 years down the line,” Castaneto said.

Kathy Wade lives in Wailuku and was dropping off her ballot on Saturday evening at the deposit box outside the Maui County building. Wade said she likes the process of voting by mail “because I can look at the names and try to figure out who I’m going to vote for” from home or elsewhere.

“It’s convenient,” Wade said.

When asked what the top issue was for her as a voter, Wade said that the future of democracy was at stake, and expressed concern about candidates developing extreme views and not being able to come together.

“We need to be able to talk to each other. We need to be able to work together,” Wade said.

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

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