Traffic tie-ups, disputes about time prevent some voters from casting ballots

Erin Hesapene
Erin Hesapene

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some voters say they weren't able to cast ballots Tuesday because of traffic tie-ups or disputes about the 6 PM closing time for polls.

State elections officials say the law prohibits precinct workers from arbitrarily making a call to extend poll hours. They say people who comply with the law, which includes getting to the polling place in time, are allowed to vote.

Erin Hesapene spent Wednesday afternoon working on a letter of complaint to the state Office of Elections. She says she got to her polling place, Manana Elementary in Pearl City, three minutes before the 6 PM cutoff Tuesday, but was denied a ballot.

"I felt robbed because it's my right as a US citizen," she said. "I wanted to vote."

She says a voter who arrived at the precinct after her was allowed to cast a ballot.

"By letting one man vote that came after me and accepted his ballot and not letting me vote, that's breaking a federal law," she said.

Poll workers are required by law to follow a specific procedure when closing precincts. Anyone in line by 6 PM is supposed to be given a ballot.

"Poll workers make the call. We entrust them with that work," Rex Quidilla, state Office of Elections, said. "The law prescribes how polls are run. If they weren't in line, they weren't in line."

Some voters were hampered by a traffic jam heading west Tuesday afternoon.

"I really believe that they need to realize, a gentleman that went there yesterday said it took 3 1/2 hours to get from Honolulu to his polling place," Hesapene said.

We received several comments on our Facebook page about the gridlock.

"I think the polls should stay open later for people who commute and work," Roxy Redenbaugh wrote. "Six PM is early."

"My husband had to force his way into the polling place because he was three minutes late," Mary Hirose wrote. "He said it was 6:02 and he'd been sitting in traffic since 3:30."

Elections officials say they don't have the authority to extend voting hours. The governor must make an emergency declaration. The last time that happened was in 1996, when then-Governor Cayetano extended poll hours because of torrential rain in Honolulu.

"If a person works downtown and they have to come all the way to Pearl City and there's traffic, they're screwed," Hesapene said.

Elections officials say an emergency declaration was also made in 1992, when destruction from Hurricane Iniki forced a consolidation of polling places on Kauai.

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