Early voting on the upswing, boosted by more mail-in balloting

Early voting on the upswing, boosted by more mail-in balloting

Honolulu (HawaiiNewsNow) – Honolulu election officials expect about a six-percent increase in early voting -- both by mail and in person -- for Saturday's primary election compared to the last primary in 2010.

The city's absentee ballot processing office has been extra busy this year.

The Honolulu City Clerk's office predicts mail-in ballots could exceed 86,000 for the Aug. 11 primary, a 13 percent hike in absentee mail voting from the last primary two years ago.

"Just the convenience of voting on your own time," said Honolulu's elections administrator Glen Takahashi.  He said more and more people are registered in the city's permanent absentee voting program.

"I think people are suddenly becoming aware of that and deciding that voting by mail is accessible and convenient for them," Takahashi said.

Why is early voter participation higher this year?

Besides enjoying the ease of voting by mail, voters could just be interested in the close races, Takahashi said.

"The races are like the food at the party, right?  That's the reason sometimes why you go," Takahashi said. "And so there are definitely interesting races, Congressional two races, the US Senate, and of course a lot of races."

Another reason for early voting: this is the first time Hawaii's primary election has been moved back one month until August, when universities, colleges and private schools have not begun their academic years.  As a result, voters might still be on trips or busy with other summer activities and need to vote absentee instead of on Aug. 11.

There's a two-step process processing the absentee ballots after they arrive by mail.  First, 12 temporary elections workers use bar scanners to swipe each ballot, recording its receipt and making sure the voter's name is  added into election computers to make sure they can't vote at a polling place.

"The authentication part involves verifying the voter's signature against something else we have in our database, an image of their signature, to make sure that is the person who should be voting on that ballot," Takahashi said.

Once the absentee mail-in ballots have been logged in and the signatures on them checked for accuracy, they are placed in cages, under lock and key where they are kept until election day. That's when the ballots are transported to the State Capitol to be opened with observers present to be counted.

Voters who have not sent in their absentee ballots by mail should not put them in the mail on Saturday, election day, because there is not enough time for them to arrive to be counted.

But they can take their blue absentee ballot envelopes to any polling place across the state from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, or to the county clerk's office on each island until 6 p.m.  On Oahu, about 1,000 people are expected to deliver their last-minute absentee ballots to polling places Saturday.

Statewide, early voting has been on the rise in recent years, going from 37 percent in the 2006 primary, to 39 percent in the 2008 primary and then to 44 percent in the 2010 primary.  Honolulu elections officials expect absentee voting to rise to at least 45 percent this year.

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