With four days of voting still to go, Oahu residents had already cast more ballots this election than they did in the entire 2016 primary, according to state and county numbers reported Tuesday.

Honolulu elections officials reported receiving 183,116 ballots sent by mail as of Tuesday. That exceeds the total 2016 primary turnout of 169,531 for Oahu.

It also surpasses Oahu’s absentee turnout for the 2018 primary, which saw just over 116,000 early voters. The total 2018 primary turnout for the island was 189,421.

Kapolei Hale Ballot Drop Box at the front entrance.
About a third of Hawaii voters have already cast ballots ahead of the primary election Saturday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Statewide, voter turnout has already exceeded the early voting counts of the last two elections in Hawaii’s first all-mail election ahead of Saturday’s primary.

More than 240,000 voters statewide have cast ballots so far this election. But it’s still yet to be seen what effect the new mail system will have on total voter turnout in Hawaii, which has some of the lowest rates of election participation in the country.

That figure represents about a third of the approximately 700,000 ballots that were sent out by elections officials.

While more than half of voters in the last two elections cast ballots by mail, a significant chunk of Hawaii’s voting population — about 45% in 2018 — chose to cast ballots at polling places on Election Day.

Those polling places won’t be there anymore. The state instead has eight voter centers and 36 places of deposit spread throughout the islands to drop off ballots or get help voting. Voters can also mail their ballots in as they would any mail.

Typically, voter turnout is higher during presidential election years like 2020. However, Hawaii primary elections during those years have actually seen lower turnout when compared to years voters pick a new governor.

The higher mail turnout is coupled with lower walk-in numbers at early voting sites.

At this time in 2018, the City and County of Honolulu reported over 4,700 ballots cast at those early walk-in sites. This year, just 1,085 voters cast ballots at those sites as of Tuesday.

In all, about a third of voters have already cast ballots on Oahu.

It’s a similar story on the neighbor islands. On the Big Island, 36,667 ballots have been cast of the more than 100,000 ballots county elections officials mailed as of Monday. 

Voters and state lawmakers from Hawaii County have raised concerns that the two voter centers located in Hilo and Kona may be too far for some rural communities, which may lack consistent mail access. Those centers so far have seen 305 voters cast ballots in-person.

Maui County — home to both the House district with the lowest turnout in the state as well as the district that has the lowest rate of mail voting in Hawaii — reported receiving 24,199 mailed ballots, with 112 voters turning out to the three voter centers in Wailuku, Lanai City and Kaunakakai as of Monday.

Maui County Clerk Kathy Kaohu says turnout in the county appears ahead of past years.

“I’m excited,” Kaohu said, adding that she’s hoping the county reaches at least 45%.

In the 2016 primary, Maui County’s turnout was 29%.

“I’m hoping things pick up speed a little so we can achieve that,” Kaohu said of the higher turnout figure.

The Kauai County Clerk’s office did not respond to inquiries regarding early ballot counts as of Tuesday afternoon. 

Kauai voters represented about 6% of the state’s total turnout in the 2016 primary election.

Updated 9 a.m.: The Kauai County elections office reported receiving 15,484 ballots as of Tuesday along with 146 ballots cast at the voter center in Lihue.

Kauai’s numbers puts total turnout so far at over 259,000.

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