Voting is underway in Hawaii as the general election approaches

A week before the end of the Hawaii general election, state and county election officials report that about 195,000 ballots were returned.

That’s over distributed more than 731,000 ballots to date, a response rate of around 27%.

And on Tuesday, the state capitol was packed with counts.

Volunteers could be found in a room on the third floor of the building, separating Oahu ballots from their envelopes.

Poll officials at the Hawaii State Capitol separate ballots from their non-disclosure envelopes and place the ballots in labeled boxes on the left. Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2022

Election officials bounced back and forth between there and the Senate chambers, where an army of scanners processed ballots, uploading their results to thumb drives not to be tabulated until polling stations close on Election Day.

Rene Morgan, a Kailua volunteer observer, was one of those who worked at the Capitol. She says she likes to sign up for double shifts.

“Elections cannot take place without observers,” she said.

She’s right — many of the steps require observers to sign off, including locking the ballot-containing cages at the end of each day. Observers sign their names in green while officers sign their names in red; Blue and black pens are avoided as voters mark their ballots with these colors.

Morgan has been an Observer since 2020 and said she enjoyed learning about the process of counting ballots.

If people are concerned that something “silly” is going on, they can come in and watch for themselves, she said.

Hawaii adopted a postal voting system in the 2020 election, and it’s still not clear if postal voting, while touted as making voting easier, did much to increase voter turnout. By that point in 2020, about 60% of ballots had been returned in the general election — a record-breaking turnout — but that was also during a hotly contested presidential election.

Turnout for the August 13 primary was about 39%.

Voter registration has been increasing since 2018 with about 30,000 new ones registered voters each year, due in part a law of 2021 which allows people to register to vote when applying for a driver’s license. People can also register at one of the on Election Day Voter Service Centers across the state that also allow for in-person voting.

In the state Senate chamber is a cage made of labeled boxes of ballots.
In the state Senate chamber is a cage made of labeled boxes of ballots. Each box contains ballots from a specific set of house districts, making things easier when a recount needs to take place. Ben Angarone/Civil Beat/2022

Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago encouraged voters to submit their ballots early to avoid long lines outside polling centers open on Election Day.

Officials recommend sending ballots in at least five days early to ensure they arrive by Election Day, but also note that voters can drop their ballots into Dropboxes any time up until the 7 p.m. polling closes that day. For a complete list of Dropbox and Voter Service Center locations, visit the county election website.

This election will be the first to use a long-distance transmission system, allowing various census centers across the state to send their results to the state census center in the Capitol via a secured point-to-point system.

“We’ve moved from a polling station model to a postal voting model, so we’re now looking at ways to streamline it and make it more efficient,” said Nedielyn Bueno, who coordinates voter services for the electoral office.

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