Data from Hawaii’s four counties show a pronounced uptick in the number of people requesting absentee mail-in ballots for this year’s primary election on Aug. 11.
Rex Quidilla, election administrator for Honolulu, said about 150,000 mail-in ballots were put in the mail in recent days. That’s a 16 percent increase over the roughly 129,000 Oahu voters who asked for mail-in ballots in the 2016 primary election.
Since 2014 a majority of Hawaii voters have chosen to vote absentee either by mail or by visiting absentee walk-in centers. In the 2016 primary 62 percent did. This year absentee walk-in balloting polling places run from July 30 to Aug. 9.
The 150,000 absentee ballots issued represent only the first, albeit largest batch of mail-ins to go out as more voters are expected to request absentee ballots. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot for the primary is Aug. 4, seven days before Election Day, so the total will continue to rise.
“We haven’t seen a number like this for a primary before,” Quidilla said.
The increase is even sharper on the Garden Isle, the county with the smallest population. Lyndon Yoshioka, Kauai County election administrator, said his office mailed out approximately 12,100 mail-in ballots Wednesday. That’s about 26 percent more than the approximately 9,600 mail-in ballots that were issued to voters in the 2016 primary.
Absentee mail-in ballot requests are also rising in Maui and Hawaii counties.
Maui County election administrator Shirley Magarifuji said her staff mailed out 25,179 ballots July 13. Magarifuji did not have the number of absentee requests from 2016, but said it’s more than the absentee mail-out requests received in the 2016 general.
Hawaii County election officials could not be reached for comment, but the state Office of Elections reported there were 37,776 ballots mailed out Tuesday. That’s also a whopping increase from the 2016 primary, when there were 26,967 absentee mail-in and absentee walk-in ballots combined recorded.
Quidilla said absentee mail-in ballots are issued to any registered voter who wants one. That would include all who voted via absentee mail-in in 2016, those who have asked to be placed on absentee mail-in status permanently and those requesting an absentee mail-in ballot for only this election, he said.
Yoshioka said he’s happy to see the popularity of absentee mail-in voting continuing to grow. “I guess people are getting more familiar and comfortable with voting by mail, and a jump in the numbers is good,” he said.
Soon the state will test broadening the vote-by-mail method by sending ballots to all voters on Kauai.
Gov. David Ige this year signed into law Act 182, which requires Kauai County to distribute mail-in ballots to all voters for both the primary and general elections in 2020. Voters would still be able to walk in and vote, or return their completed ballots at special drop-off sites.
“More people are going to be familiar with voting by mail when we do roll out the pilot project,” Yoshioka said.
Mail-in voting, in general, is credited with increasing voter participation.
Besides that, all-mail elections would make the jobs of election officials easier, particularly when it comes to logistics, Yoshioka said. Kauai County has had more difficulty than usual finding the necessary number of Election Day poll worker volunteers. About 250 are needed, and he’s short by about two dozen, he said.
To volunteer to help on any island, go to the Office of Elections website at elections.hawaii.gov.