More than 579,000 ballots were cast statewide in the 2020 general election Tuesday, with a strong mail-in and drop-off turnout bolstered by hundreds of people waiting in long lines to cast votes in person.

Lines on Oahu at the only two voting centers — in Kapolei and at Honolulu Hale — were so long Tuesday evening that the polls couldn’t close at 7 p.m. as expected. Instead, hundreds of people had been waiting in line for hours and kept the polls open until 11:30 p.m.

The first results were released a short time later. They included mail-in ballots received through Monday and ballots from the Honolulu Hale polling location through Tuesday, but not ballots from Kapolei Hale.

The count was expected to continue Wednesday.

People continue to stand in a long line to cast their ballots at the Honolulu Hale late in the day, Tuesday, November 3, 2020. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Hundreds of voters across the islands waited in long lines on Election Day. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

The first printout of election results showed more than 546,000 votes cast, or 65% of all registered voters.

A second printout around 1:30 a.m. showed 557,186 ballots cast. It included more than 8,000 votes that had been cast over the past 10 days at Kapolei Hale.

A third printout Wednesday morning included more than 20,000 ballots that had been deposited at drop box locations across the islands. Those were collected at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and county officials spent the night verifying signatures on the return envelopes.

There are more than 833,000 registered voters in Hawaii. The 2020 general election has so far reported the most ballots cast in a single election since statehood in 1959. And more ballots are yet to be counted on Wednesday and in the days to come.

The number of ballots cast already beat the last record set in 2008 by more than 80,000 ballots. Still, with a turnout of 69.6% as of Wedensday morning, Hawaii is far from the days in the decade after statehood, when more than 80% of registered voters participated in elections.

It also appears to be close to the bottom in terms of voting rates when compared to other states.

Long Lines At Polling Sites

Several voters outside Honolulu Hale told Civil Beat that they waited between two-and-a-half to three hours to vote.

Shari Mamuad was the last in line, having just made it to the voter center at 7 p.m., the deadline for potential voters to be in line.

Mamuad was excited to participate in a presidential election since she wasn’t able to vote in 2016. She felt that her vote was important enough to justify a two-hour wait.

The long lines came as a surprise to elections officials, who had already  been preparing for larger crowds than the primary election.

But the turnout seen in Honolulu and Kapolei was “way beyond anything we could have anticipated,” said Rex Quidilla, the Honolulu elections administrator.

He noted that some voters coming through Honolulu Hale said they were voting for the first time.

Sandy Ma, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii, said volunteers reported similarly long wait times on neighbor islands. Common Cause, citizen groups and legislators have been sounding the alarm for some time over the number of voter centers in the islands.

Ma said Common Cause plans to ask the Legislature to add more voter centers.

Increases In Voting

Election officials won’t know until later Wednesday how many votes were cast in person. But voting at voter centers also appears to have increased since the primary election, where around 1% of voters cast their ballots at a voter center.

The state average for in-person voting so far is about 3.9%. The rate of in-person voting is highest on Kauai, where 5% of all votes cast so far have been at the county’s voter center in Lihue.

Voters wait in a long line stretching down the street to cast their ballots at the Kapolei City Hall on election day Tuesday, November 3, 2020. (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Voters wait in a long line stretching down the street to cast their ballots at Kapolei city hall on Election Day, Tuesday. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

Matt Johnston, 19, was one of those who voted in person. This is Johnston’s first time voting, and he planned to walk in and register.

Though he doesn’t know yet who he wants to vote for, his reason for turning out is simple.

“I wanted to see change,” he said.

Standing in a line to vote is a change for Jessica Miller, who previously lived in Florida where she and her husband used to cast their ballots by mail.

“This is a first for us, but we are excited at the same time,” Miller said.

Voters were also stopping to deposit their mail ballots in drop boxes Tuesday at Honolulu Hale.

There was a line of cars waiting to turn into city hall, where a tent was set up for voters to drive by and drop their completed ballots with an election worker.

Hawaii’s first foray into all-mail voting seems to have reversed the trend of declining participation in the islands. 

Some competitive races helped to boost turnout in certain voting districts. Other drivers may include giving more people better access to voting options or voters wanting new faces in local politics.

Oahu voters, for example, advanced two candidates with no prior political experience to the Honolulu mayoral race with Rick Blangiardi and Keith Amemiya. Blangiardi defeated Amemiya on Tuesday.

This story has been supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.

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