HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state’s election results were delayed for hours Tuesday as voters on Oahu ― in Hawaii’s first general election conducted mostly by mail ― made their way through long lines at two polling locations on the island to vote in person.
Hundreds were still in line at Kapolei Hale about 9 p.m. At Honolulu Hale, the last person walked in to cast a ballot at 9:21 p.m. And the first results for the election weren’t released until after 11 p.m. ― four hours after the polls were set to close at 7 p.m., when anyone still in line was allowed to cast a ballot.
But getting through the lines at Honolulu Hale and Kapolei Hale was taking up to four hours.
Scott Nago, the state’s chief elections officer, acknowledged the lines were a significant issue on Election Day and noted that the city was responsible for determining how many Voter Service Centers to set up on Oahu. “We’ll sit down with the county clerks to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “I’m not sure what went into the selection of the Voter Service Centers.”
Elections officials said polls in Maui County, on Kauai, and in Kona were closed by about 8 p.m. and those in Hilo were about to close.
But the polling locations on Oahu were still open, and lines in the hundreds snaked around the buildings. Elections officials described the lines as unprecedented.
“This is a lot of people taking very seriously their right to vote,” said Rex Quidilla, the city’s election administration. He said in-person voting had been relatively light leading up to Election Day.
This was the first year of Hawaii’s move to an election mostly conducted by mail.
“I haven’t seen a line like this ever before,” he said, adding that the lines are “progressing.”
Election Day in Hawaii started with a record number of ballots already cast, mostly in person, and long lines forming at Voter Service Centers for those looking to vote in person. And those lines continued through the day and into the evening, with tens of thousands coming out to vote in person.
The turnout ― one of the biggest stories of the day ― was an incredible show of voter energy in a state that typically sees one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the nation.
Colin Moore, HNN political analyst, said the long lines were a surprise (even with high interest in the presidential election). “Clearly, state officials didn’t anticipate this either,” he said. “We’re going to see turnout that we haven’t seen in this state since the early ’90s. We clearly are turning the corner.”
But with long waits, the lines also raised questions about whether elections officials had miscalculated in only offering two in-person voting locations on Oahu.
Going into Tuesday, officials said the turnout with early voting chiefly by mail was already above 60% ― and that the number of votes cast had eclipsed the 2008 record.
The Voter Service Centers on Oahu, at Kapolei Hale and Honolulu Hale, opened at 7 a.m.
But lines started forming as early as 5 a.m.
Early in the evening, Honolulu City Clerk Glen Takahashi said he expected in-person voters to make up about 4% of all those who cast ballots. It’s believed that figure is much higher.
One of those who opted to vote in person was Leoncio Labuguen, of Honolulu.
“We finally came to our senses and conclusions knowing that voting does make a difference, especially with this time that we are going through now,” said Labuguen.
Other last-minute voters said they came out looking for change, but not everyone agreed what that looked like. Several said they were anxious about the outcome.
One thing they agreed on: They thought the wait to vote was worth it.
“I’m tense,” said voter Jamie Kent. “I think people are really trying to look into what matters.”
Voter Megan Okamoto came out because she doesn’t believe the country is headed in the right direction. “We’re supposed to be progressive, not regressing,” she said. “And I feel like that’s currently where we’re heading back to, again, unfortunately.”
But Jeff Pimentel said he believes President Donald Trump deserves another four years.
“We voted for Donald Trump. Very important for us. As a matter of fact, you know, just looking at the lines, I don’t remember the lines being this long, ever. Even in 2016.”
In addition to the race for the White House, there are some important local elections on the ballot this year. On Oahu, voters are selecting a new mayor and city prosecutor. There’s also a race for the new mayor of Hawaii County. And there are several hot state legislative and City Council races.
Those waiting in line to vote had different reasons for doing so. Some said they preferred in-person voting. Other said they needed to register or update their information.
“I still don’t trust the voting by mail. I’ve always voted in person," said Faaiu Faaiu, Jr., who was first in line at Kapolei Hale on Election Day.
“With all the new stuff that’s going on, I want to make sure my vote counts."
The number of Hawaii voters who cast their ballots in this year’s general election eclipses the previous record ― seen when Hawaii’s own Barack Obama ran for president eight years ago.
And for Hawaii voters, the move to a primarily vote-by-mail system isn’t the only change this year.
Most agree there’s much more tension in the air compared to other presidential elections.
“There’s an anticipation for the outcome for sure,” Waikiki resident Rick Naylor.
Resident Misty Obeso says she plans to be in front of the television Tuesday, watching the returns.
“Previous elections it was just like, 'OK, whoever you want to vote for get it done and over with and move on in our lives,” said Obeso.
“This time people are physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically getting involved.”
Political analysts say the record number of votes cast in Hawaii underscores national political divisions and strong voter enthusiasm. Local issues are also driving people to the polls, including the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the protest atop Mauna Kea and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Voter Kamanao Agres turned in his ballot at Honolulu Hale on Monday, saying that it’s important that “we all put in our votes so that we can make a change of what is happening right now.”
“You know, I worry about the future of my grandchildren," he said.
“I worry about my mom and the elders and all of that and I just want the best for them and the only way we can get the answer is by putting in the vote to make a difference.”
This story will be updated.