Hawaii County voter turnout lowest in state

  • Surrounded by supporters, Rebecca Shute Villegas, right counts down the time to the next print out at her home Tuesday night. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kelly Drysdale, center, who eventually lost her bid for Kona’s county council seat 7, is surrounded by supporters Tuesday night. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Turnout in Hawaii County for Tuesday’s election was among the lowest in this county’s history as well as the lowest of any county in the state this year.

Between absentee and in-person votes throughout the Big Island’s precincts, only 51.5 percent of the county’s 115,406 registered voters took part in the general election. Kauai had the highest rate of turnout with 58.1 percent. Maui and Honolulu recorded turnout rates of 52.2 and 52.5 percent, respectively.

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Statewide participation at the polls was markedly down for Tuesday’s election. The state Office of Elections reported a statewide total turnout of 52.6 percent, down about six points from the 2016 election.

Hawaii County’s rate this general election was higher only than the most recent nonpresidential election of 2014, when only 47.7 percent of registered voters cast ballots, according to the state Office of Elections.

The 2016 presidential election, according to state data, brought out 58.4 percent of the state’s registered voters compared to 61.9 percent in 2012. Hawaii County numbers nearly mirrored the state both years, with 58.4 percent of the county’s registered voters casting ballots in 2016 and 61.2 percent in 2012.

The trend reflects a steady drop in voter participation at the polls. While turnout rates in midterms are consistently lower than those in presidential elections, recent data show fewer people are casting their votes from midterm to midterm and presidential election to presidential election. And officials aren’t certain why.

“I wish I knew,” said Pat Nakamoto, Hawaii County elections program administrator. “I would do something about it.”

One trend Nakamoto has noticed is more people casting absentee and mail-in ballots at much higher rates than those coming to their precincts on Election Day.

In Hawaii County, nearly three out of every five ballots counted in Tuesday’s election — accounting for 34,497 ballots in total — were absentee ballots.

This year was also the first to allow Election Day voter registration, which allows those eligible to register and vote to do so at an early walk-in voting location in their county or at their polling place (as determined by their residential address) on Election Day.

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And on Tuesday, Nakamoto said, many took that opportunity to register and cast their ballot. While she didn’t have exact figures on how many people registered on Tuesday, it was substantial, she said.

“It kept our control center busy the whole day,” she said.