Hot races including a tight contest involving our own homegrown presidential contender couldn’t shake Hawaii voters’ continued apathy toward elections.

Fewer people cast ballots this year than in 2008, when Hawaii had the lowest turnout in the nation.

In recent months, that dismally low rate has gained Hawaii national attention. Locally, grassroots citizen activist organizations and others mounted major voter turnout initiatives.

But at the end of the day Tuesday, only 437,000 ballots were cast this year compared to 456,000 cast in 2008, the last presidential election year.

That amounted to 62 percent of registered voters statewide casting ballots for this election, down from 66 percent four years ago — the first time Hawaii’s native son, President Barack Obama, won the White House.

Hawaii’s Office of Elections calculates voter turnout as the number of registered voters who cast ballots. Nearly 706,000 people statewide registered to vote in this election, up from the 691,000 residents who were registered for the 2008 election.

Voting advocates hoped the slew of hot local and national races this year, along with a number grassroots civic engagement initiatives, would encourage more people to cast ballots this election.

But dismal primary election turnout rates didn’t bode well for Tuesday’s general, even despite varied attempts to turn the tide.

Civic organizations expanded their voter outreach efforts after the primary. James Koshiba, executive director of Kanu Hawaii, said the group helped register 1,000 new voters since September. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs also oversaw a door-to-door initiative to encourage voting.

As with the Aug. 11 primary, about half of all voters cast ballots early. Mail-in ballots made up the bulk of the absentee turnout.

Nearly 182,000 voters statewide had cast early ballots as of Nov. 3, surpassing the less than 176,000 ballots cast early in the 2008 general.

The Big Island reported the most dramatic surge in absentee turnout, with the number of mail-in ballots cast more than doubling since the 2010 election.

Hawaii County’s election went without a major hitch — to the relief of many who worried that the island’s primary day disaster would somehow repeat itself Tuesday.

Problems instead plagued Oahu, where 19 polling places had to stay open late because they ran out of paper ballots.

Electronic voting machines were the only option for voters in those precincts, creating a severe backlog of frustrated voters. The precincts originally had about two such devices each — an issue that state elections officials attempted to remedy by sending more machines and additional paper ballots.

But critics, including the Green Party of Hawaii on behalf of state House candidate Keiko Bonk, said that the problems deterred hundreds of people from casting their ballots, perhaps even distorting election results. Bonk lost to House Speaker Calvin Say by 25 percentage points. The party’s attorney, Lance D. Collins, said he might take legal action pending an investigation into the cause of the ballot problem.

“We can appreciate that people lose patience with the process, and we’re very sorry it occurred,” said state elections spokesman Rex Quidilla.

Quidilla said his office would be investigating why so many precincts received insufficient numbers of paper ballots.

“The fact that it was fairly widespread, that it was pretty isolated to Honolulu County, the fact that we don’t have a history of running out of ballots … that’s definitely something that we have to look into,” he said.

He said that he wasn’t sure whether it was because the precincts saw higher turnout than anticipated.

“When we design our ballot order and assignments to polling places, it’s not designed for us to run out,” he added.

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

About the Author