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Today’s election historically unique

When the State of Hawaii adopted all-mail voting in 2019 we all knew today’s primary election would be different. Nobody anticipated just how unique this first election under the new rules would be.

Along with election officials who are navigating an array of challenges due to the global coronavirus pandemic, candidates have also been forced to adapt.

Election days on Maui are known for their bountiful feasts, crowded campaign headquarters and roadsides lined with hundreds of smiling sign wavers. All are verboten in the age of COVID-19.

Instead of a hopeful troop of candidates making the rounds tonight visiting other headquarters and stopping by Akaku Maui Community Media’s studios, politicians will likely be sitting in front of their home computers being interviewed via Zoom. Akaku is opting to cover the election virtually and will not be hosting its customary party or inviting candidates for live interviews.

(The Maui News will be providing up-to-the-minute election results at www.mauinews.com and produce a digital edition for subscribers available Sunday.)

In the glory days of Maui politics, candidates and their staffs would oversee armies of volunteers who waved signs, cooked, cleaned and burned the telephone lines getting out the vote. The food a politician served was almost as important as his or her politics. Candidates vied to see who could put on the tastiest election night buffet. Nearly all hosted a big luau during the campaign season that would draw many hundreds of people. Those events were chock full of free drinks, speeches, giveaways and entertainment.

Maui County Council Chairwoman Alice Lee, who is running unopposed for her Wailuku residency seat this election, remembers being a little girl dressed in pajamas when her parents took her to hear a campaign speech by Eddie Tam, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, at Wells Park. Lee has been in and around politics ever since, including running for mayor in 1998. She says this election is like no other.

“This is an extraordinary period,” Lee said. “It’s not close to anything I’ve experienced.”

Lee expects the pandemic to impact the newcomers and challengers.

“In today’s environment, because of the social distancing and the rules restricting contact, you’re going to see the incumbents have a huge advantage,” Lee said. “They are on TV all the time, and in articles in The Maui News.”

New County Clerk Kathy Kaohu is overseeing Maui County’s first all-mail election. She says there has been a learning curve, but feels she and her staff are ready.

“For the most part, things are running smoothly,” Kaohu said.

During the long battle to institute all-mail voting in Hawaii, proponents claimed it would increase voter turnout. Did they ever consider how handy it would be during a pandemic? We are lucky to have such a system in place for the most unique election of our lifetimes.

Voter Service Centers on all three islands will be open until 7 p.m. today, as will ballot drop boxes at a dozen more locations. It’s not too late to vote or even to register to vote. Ballots still in the mail at 7 p.m. will not count. Log on to the Maui County website for details.

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