Updated 10:45 a.m. Aug. 10

Before too long, the concept of “Election Day” might be obsolete.

More than 128,000 Hawaii voters have already cast their ballot through Thursday, moving the state close to the primary election absentee voter record set two years ago.

Elections officials for the four counties reported they’d received at least 105,000 ballots in the mail through Thursday and another 23,000 eager citizens have taken advantage of walk-in voting this year. Put together, those early voter numbers easily are already closing in on the 129,980 absentee voters from the 2010 primary even with two days left for mail to arrive. (Thursday was the last day for walk-in voting.)

A trend emerged across the islands after all the votes were counted Thursday afternoon — walk-in numbers were actually down nearly a third from 2010, but the mail-in numbers were up by more than enough to make up the difference.

County 2010 Walk-In 2012 Walk-In Change 2010 Mail-In 2012 Mail-In Change
Honolulu 17,132 12,936 -24% 64,000 77,000 +20%
Hawaii 9,661 5,807 -40% 6,495 13,839 (estimated) +113%
Maui 3,004 2,192 -27% 7,192 8,541 +19%
Kauai1 2,337 1,975 -15% 5,881 6,173 +5%
Total 32,134 22,910 -29% 83,568 105,553 +26%

Source: County Election Administrators

“I suspect that there’s a transferring over onto the mail as a result of the permanent absentee program,” Honolulu Elections Administrator Glen Takahashi told Civil Beat. “Two years ago was the first time we introduced those applications, and now more people are catching on.”

Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi said the number of registered permanent absentee voters is up to around 20,000 on the Big Island from 6,400 two years ago. She said the county mailed permanent absentee ballot applications to every registered voter on the island — 101,000 in all — in an effort to encourage that type of voting. It worked; mail-in absentee voting more than doubled on the island from 2010.

“I think our direct mail effort has made it easier for people to register to vote by absentee ballot,” she said. “We also did a marketing effort where we’re basically showing the voters that permanent absentee voting is just one of the options available to the voter to vote. Making it known to voters that, in addition to coming on election day, you can vote by mail and you can vote walk-in definitely helped.”

Statewide, election officials mailed out at least 142,399 absentee ballots, up significantly from the 111,483 they sent two years ago. Almost 75 percent have already been returned, and Takahashi said he expected to get about 10,000 more back in the mail before the end of the day Saturday.

The increasing early voter turnout doesn’t necessarily portend increased turnout overall, but some signs are encouraging.

In 2010, nearly 130,000 early voters represented 44 percent of the overall turnout. That ratio has increased every two years, without fail, since 1992. Basically, people who were going to vote anyway are turning out early instead of voting on election day.

Year Registered Turnout Turnout
Absentee Absentee
1992 432,723 251,576 58.1% 23,134 9.2%
1994 468,739 307,904 65.7% 38,863 12.6%
1996 531,892 275,548 51.8% 37,695 13.7%
1998 582,558 291,069 50.0% 46,982 16.1%
2000 629,162 250,848 39.9% 49,192 19.6%
2002 667,679 274,517 41.1% 69,544 25.3%
2004 626,120 248,731 39.7% 79,276 31.9%
2006 655,741 276,693 42.2% 102,349 37.0%
2008 667,647 246,299 36.9% 95,042 38.6%
2010 684,481 293,016 42.8% 129,980 44.4%
2012 687,500 TBD TBD 128,463 (so far) TBD

Source: Civil Beat analysis of election results

A reasonable best case scenario for turnout is that Takahashi’s estimate of 10,000 more mail ballots in Honolulu turns out to be on the conservative side and the statewide early vote total gets to 150,000 before Saturday night. If the absentee percentage climbs only by the modest 1.6 percent increase from 2006 to 2008 rather than by some of the other large jumps in recent years, the total turnout this year would be around 325,000, or 47 percent of the state’s registered voters — the highest in a primary by far since the 1990s.

Even a more pessimistic model — 140,000 early votes representing exactly half of all votes cast — would mean turnout of 41 percent. That might sound pitiful, but it would actually be the highest in a non-gubernatorial primary year in more than a decade as well.

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.