Late processing of ballots collected from drop boxes on Oahu was holding up the release of final statewide elections results on Sunday afternoon.

There appears to have been an influx of voters utilizing the drop boxes on Saturday, the last day to vote. In the 2020 primary election, more than 17,000 ballots came in through those drop boxes.

The City and County of Honolulu delivered 35,000 ballots to the state elections office early Sunday. Most of those ballots came from drop boxes, according to Honolulu elections administrator Rex Quidilla. The rest came through the postal service.

Thousands of ballots from drop boxes on Oahu were still being processed on Sunday, delaying a final count of election results. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022

Another batch is expected sometime Sunday, but Quidilla didn’t have an estimate of how many ballots there could be and how long it could take to verify signatures on the mail envelopes.

“This is not a process you want to rush,” Quidilla said.

The last batch could swing the balance of several tight races on Oahu for the Legislature and City Council.

Quidilla said it took some time Saturday night to collect all the ballots deposited before the deadline of 7 p.m. There are 13 drop boxes scattered around Oahu, up from 10 in 2020.

After workers gather those ballots, the city puts the mail envelopes through a signature verification process – one of the first lines of defense against voter fraud in Hawaii.

With the switch to all-mail voting in Hawaii, Quidilla said the overnight verification of ballot envelopes is likely to be the new normal in Hawaii elections.

After the city verified envelope signatures, the ballots were taken to the State Capitol for counting.

Volunteers wrapped up the process of counting the 35,000 ballots delivered early Sunday just after noon, according to Nedielyn Bueno, head of the state Office of Elections voter services section. That group of volunteers was released for the day shortly after.

“We had them up since early this morning, and they just powered through” to finish counting the ballots, Bueno said.

About a dozen volunteers chatted around tables in a break room in the Capitol basement over snacks and Zippy’s bentos as they waited for their next assignments. Some were there since Saturday and stayed overnight.

In a dimly lit section of the Senate anteroom, another elections worker slept on a couch.

Neither Bueno nor Quidilla could give an estimate for how long a final batch of ballots could take to process or when the final elections results would be posted.

“We’re done when we’re done,” Quidilla said.

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