Earlier this week, Tropical Storm Iselle threatened to deter Hawaii voters from going to the polls Saturday and potentially disrupt the state’s primary election.
The storm hardly hit the islands as intensely as some feared. But the better weather didn’t come with better-than-anticipated voter turnout numbers.
As of Sunday morning, 41.4 percent — or 285,471 — of Hawaii’s 688,778 registered voters statewide cast ballots. The turnout was 43.4 percent on Oahu, 37.6 percent on the Big Island, 32.2 percent in Maui County and 47 percent in Kauai County.
Election headquarters at the State Capitol on Saturday.
Alia Wong/Civil Beat
Turnout numbers are according to a final summary report that has not been certified by the Elections Office, but it appeared as though voter participation was down from past years. In 2012, about 42 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the primary election. In 2010, the percentage was 43 percent.
That makes this year’s turnout one of the lowest the Aloha State has ever seen. The lowest primary turnout in the state’s history was in 2008, when just 37 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
This year’s election included historic challenges to Democratic incumbents Gov. Neil Abercrombie and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, as well as an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Ige won by a landslide, as did Democratic House contender Mark Takai. Schatz and his challenger, Colleen Hanabusa, were still locked in a close race Saturday night — 48.5 percent versus 47.8 percent, respectively.
The turnout numbers do not account for the voters in the Puna area on the Big Island who hadn’t cast their votes by mail. The state elections office, in consultation with the attorney general, canceled the voting at Hawaii Paradise Community Center and Keoneopoko Elementary School because Tropical Storm Iselle prompted the closure of roads in the region and left Puna isolated.
State Elections Chief Scott Nago said that voting in the rescheduled election will be done by mail ballot. The state office will work closely with the Office of the County Clerk to set up a timeline for ballots to be provided to voters in the affected polling places, he said.
Puna is home to 8,255 registered voters, although it was unclear how many had already cast mail ballots.
Elections spokesman Rex Quidilla said all other ballots are now in the counties’ possession, but that they’re still crunching the numbers.
The turnout numbers would change only minimally, if at all, once the Puna ballots are in, he said.
The preliminary turnout numbers suggest that mail voting was strong, with about half of all voters — 53 percent — casting absentee ballots. About half of all ballots were cast by mail in the 2012 primary, too.
As of Saturday night, 83 percent of the ballots had been cast in the Democratic primary.
The number of registered voters increased by 2 percent, from 684,481 people in 2010, when the governor’s seat was last open, to 688,778 people this year. The number of registered voters increased in all counties, with Hawaii and Kauai counties enjoying the largest increases: about 4 percent.
Requests for mail ballots also increased, from 142,556 in 2012 to 160,696 this year, a 12 percent jump.
Hawaii Turnout Always Low
Hawaii is consistently near the bottom when it comes to voter turnout.
Civil Beat’s “Hawaii’s Vanishing Voter” series found that various factors contribute to the dearth in turnout, including the lack of competition among candidates, strict voter registration policies and, perhaps most significantly, demographics.
The low primary turnout could also be because the elections always fall on Saturdays — the result of a 1970s law that was intended to urge more voters to cast their ballots. Hawaii is the only state to hold Saturday primaries.
Hawaii’s Office of Elections measures voter turnout as the percentage of registered voters who cast ballots.
A record 93 percent of registered Hawaii voters went to the polls in 1960 general election, according to data from the state elections office. That year marked the first time voters elected state officials and participated in a U.S. presidential election.