Almost 80,000 Hawaii voters had already cast general election ballots as of Thursday morning.

About 75,000 of those voted by mail, while about 5,000 went to early walk-in polling places that opened Tuesday.

Honolulu had sent out a record-high 170,000 absentee ballots as of Thursday, county elections director Rex Quidilla said. Statewide, 254,880 ballots had been mailed out, according to county elections offices.

More balloting by mail and early walk-in continues the trend away from traditional Election Day voting at precinct polling places.

Meanwhile, total voter registration has also reached a new statewide high of 756,741, about 6,800 more voters than were registered for the 2016 general election. More than 500,000 of those registered live on Oahu, which is also a record, said Quidilla.

But a higher total registration and more early voting won’t necessarily translate into higher voter turnout. For one thing there’s no presidential election this year, and for another Hawaii voters are well-known for their apathy toward elections. Only 38.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the August primary.

“There’s a culture of disengagement here that takes a long time to shift,” said Colin Moore, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii.

Moore said a key factor is that most races are noncompetitive because of the dominance of the Democratic Party in general and incumbents in particular.

As far as general elections go, Hawaii saw its lowest turnout, 52 percent, in 2014, the last midterm election. Without the presidential campaign draw, Moore said midterms usually attract mostly voters who keep abreast of local issues.

Most of the 80,000 people who have voted already are probably of that breed, Moore said. Early voters tend to be more partisan, more knowledgeable and better engaged than those who either wait to vote at a polling place or don’t vote at all, he said.

It’s unlikely that new information on any candidate or ballot measure would change their minds at this point anyway, he said, adding, “It’s not like they’re riding the fence.”

Since 2014, absentee votes — from mail ballots and early walk-in sites — have exceeded votes cast on Election Day.

“It makes it more convenient, but it doesn’t encourage nonvoters” to become voters, Moore said.

Kauai will pilot an all-mail voting system in the 2020 elections. Hawaii could save $750,000 a year if it switched to all-mail voting statewide according to the Office of Elections.

Corie Tanida, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, says that the early voting numbers are a sign that the state should shift to all-mail voting — which would still provide a limited number of walk-in polling places.

Hawaii would join Oregon, Washington and Colorado if it made that move.

Legislation was introduced to do that in 2017 and earlier this year. Both measures failed to get hearings, save for an amended version of HB 1401, which created the pilot on Kauai.

2018 early voting at Honolulu Hale.
An early polling place is set up at Honolulu Hale. People who vote early, tend to be more engaged and partisan than those who voter later. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“I think the trends show that maybe the pilot program might not be all that necessary,” Tanida said. “We really do need to consolidate our resources.”

Early walk-in polling locations will stay open until 4 p.m. Nov. 3.

Though early voter registration closed Oct. 9, people can still register to vote at early polling locations and on Election Day as long as they cast ballots immediately after registering, Quidilla said.

The last day to submit a request for a mail ballot is Tuesday.

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