Despite this year’s all-time high number of  registered voters — likely due to a new online registration system — Hawaii’s voter turnout rate in the general election was less than for the 2012 presidential election.

In the 2012 election, 61.9 percent of 705,668 registered voters cast ballots. That year, Hawaii-born Barack Obama was on the ballot.

This year, the turnout was 58.3 percent of 749,917 registered voters, according to the Office of Elections.

“It underscores a point,” said Colin Moore, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii. “Increasing registration doesn’t necessarily mean bigger turnout.”

Meanwhile, 18 polling places experienced “hiccups” Tuesday, said Nedielyn Bueno of the Office of Elections. Most of the issues had to do with faulty e-scan machines into which poll workers feed completed ballots.

“That and the rush of voters that morning definitely caused the lines to form,” Bueno said.

At two Oahu polling stations, Kawananakoa Middle School and Kapunahala Elementary School, poll workers couldn’t find the e-scan machines in the morning before voting began. The issues were resolved before polls opened, Bueno said.

An All-Mail Ballot Future?

This year’s August primary had a record low turnout of 34.8 percent.

“The primary is just a different election because you have the whole nomination process,” said Bueno. “People are just more aware of the general election.”

The dismal primary turnout prompted U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz to call for all-mail voting and question whether elections should be held on a Saturday in August.

He pointed to Oregon, which switched to an all-mail ballot system in 1998 and has enjoyed higher turnouts. Washington and Colorado also use mail-only voting.

Moore said mail ballots generally make voting easier for those who already vote rather than inciting others to vote.

“We don’t have a politically engaged culture,” he said. “And we don’t have particularly competitive elections so there’s not much money spent on voter turnout.”

But mail-in ballots do make it easier to vote, Bueno said.

“Its definitely a choice of convenience,” she said.

Scores stand in line to have paper ballots scanned after voting at Hauula Elementary. The line to turn ballot in was longer than ballot pickup due to the 2nd page of ballot. 8 nov 2016
The line was long to vote at Hauula Elementary School on Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A 2016 bill that would have phased in mail-only voting stalled in the Legislature.

The Office of Elections has supported efforts to move to an all-mail ballot system, both to increase turnout and save $80,000 each year.

Hawaii’s low voter turnout may not be as bad as it sounds since voter rolls often have names of people who are no longer voting, either because they’ve moved, died or gone to prison. Hawaii has a lot of military families that tend to move frequently.

Voter lists are purged in February, a few months after the general election.

In Hawaii’s 2015 purge, more than 36,000 names (just over 5 percent) were eliminated. The state’s largest purge in 2003 crossed 104,000 voters off the list.

As voters are purged, elections officials identify another group of people who are put on the “fail-safe” list. Fail-safe voters are registered but haven’t voted in years, and stay on the list until their county confirms whether they should be removed from voter rolls.

Here are some voter perspectives expressed Tuesday:

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