Sanders wins 70% of vote in Hawaii Democratic caucuses

Published: Mar. 24, 2016 at 10:10 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 27, 2016 at 4:00 PM HST
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Democrats line up to vote at Kalama Intermediate School in Makawao. (Image: Erik Blair/Instagram)
Democrats line up to vote at Kalama Intermediate School in Makawao. (Image: Erik Blair/Instagram)
(Image: Dan K/Twitter)
(Image: Dan K/Twitter)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders clinched a decisive victory in Hawaii's Democratic presidential poll Saturday, on a day with turnout nearly as high as in 2008, when Hawaii-born Barack Obama made his first bid for the White House.

Final tallies show Sanders garnered 23,530 votes, or 70 percent of the ballots cast, Democratic Party of Hawaii officials announced late Saturday. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got 30 percent of the ballots cast with 10,125 votes.

Party officials said based on those totals, 17 of 25 delegates would go to Sanders, while Clinton would get eight.

Results also show that Sanders won handily in both Hawaii Congressional districts. In Congressional district 1, Sanders got 62 percent of the vote. In Congressional district 2, he got 75 percent.

The Hawaii win gave Sanders a clean sweep for three Western caucus contests held Saturday — a goal the Sanders campaign had previously set in hopes of kicking off a comeback. By mid-day Hawaii time, Sanders had been declared the winner in both Alaska and Washington state.

But while the wins are expected to reinvigorate Sanders' campaign, political onlookers are quick to point out that Clinton still holds a considerable delegate lead.

'Chaos' at polling sites

In Hawaii, high turnout, overwhelmed volunteers, and many first-time caucus voters led to problems at polling places statewide.

Polls in the Democratic vote opened at 1 p.m., but long lines were reported at a number of precincts by 11 a.m. As the day wore on, Democrats saw hours-long waits and standing-room only crowds at voting locations around the islands.

Several social media users said their precincts ran out of ballots. Hawaii News Now also received reports of voters arriving at their precincts about 3 p.m. to find they had already closed. (Voting began at 1 p.m., but there was no definitive time given for when polling places would close.)

Voter Koa Ulu said he and about a dozen other people were turned away from the precinct at Nanakuli High School about 3:30 p.m. by party volunteers who said it was closed.

"The Democratic Party in Hawaii did a poor job in reaching out to Hawaii and informing the population," he said, in a Facebook message to Hawaii News Now.

Charlene Hosenfeld, of Kailua, called the voting at Kailua Intermediate School "chaos."

"There were throngs of people, no direction, no one seemed to be in charge, ballots were handed out randomly," Hosenfeld said, in an email to Hawaii News Now. "This was not democracy at work. It was chaos and a farce."

Democratic Party of Hawaii Chairwoman Stefanie Ohigashi said she is aware of some of the voting problems.

"I've been informed that when they got there it was closed, and that could happen at smaller precincts," Ohigashi said.

Saturday's turnout wasn't as high as the record 37,000 votes cast in 2008. But the 33,716 ballots cast Saturday is more than eight times the total seen in 2004, when then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry won Hawaii's Democratic caucus.

In a statement, Ohigashi said the big turnout Saturday is a "testament to the hard work and commitment of the Sanders and Clinton campaigns and the engagement of Hawaii Democrats in the presidential process."

Spotlight on Hawaii

Hawaii's caucus is usually not the subject of national attention.

But the hot race between Clinton and Sanders means states with relatively small delegate counts could play a larger role in who becomes the Democratic Party's presidential nominee.

On Friday, the candidates and their supporters made last-minute pitches to Hawaii Democrats; both camps also ran political TV ads in the Hawaii market.

Clinton and Sanders were competing for 34 delegates in Hawaii's presidential preference poll, although only 25 were decided by the voters. The other nine are determined by state party leaders, or super delegates, and most of them are backing the former secretary of state. Hawaii isn't a winner-take-all state.

Only Democrats were allowed to participate in Saturday's vote. But those who weren't registered to vote or signed up for the party were able to do so at precincts before casting a ballot.

At both campaigns earlier in the week, volunteers were busy making calls to recruit voters and remind people to turn out to vote.

Neither Clinton nor Sanders made the trip to Hawaii this campaign season, but the senator's wife, Jane Sanders, did tour Oahu and Maui recently. And both candidates conducted phone interviews with Hawaii News Now on Friday.

Sanders campaign officials say Hawaii voters have often felt marginalized in presidential races, but this year would be different.

"There's also a lot of important issues that impact the people of Hawaii, including income inequality, including money in politics, including the benefits for veterans and seniors, and affordable education," said Reed Millar, the Hawaii state director for the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Hawaii Republicans held their caucus March 8. Front-runner Donald Trump won an overwhelming majority of the vote, walking away with 11 of Hawaii's 19 GOP delegates. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz got seven, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio got one.

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