Polling Problems: W. Hawaii precincts open late frustration, inconvenience ensues

Some West Hawaii voters were irritated after waiting more than a hour at their polling places to cast their ballots Saturday morning.

Some West Hawaii voters were irritated after waiting more than a hour at their polling places to cast their ballots Saturday morning.

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Despite initial reports issued by the county Elections Division, more than one polling place in West Hawaii opened late for the primary election because “a supply issue,” and not all 40 precincts were open by 8:35 a.m.

Voters at Kahakai Elementary School, Kona Vista Recreation Center and Kona Palisades Community Center were told poll books and voter registration lists, arriving from Hilo, were not delivered on time. Polls were supposed to open at 7 a.m., but didn’t until 8:30 to 8:45 a.m. at those locations.

State elections chief Scott Nago in an interview said initial reports were that three polling places were not open, then later then number increased to 11 and then nearly half of the West Hawaii precincts were late in opening.

Around 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Gov. Neil Abercrombie issued a proclamation, announcing voters islandwide would get more time to vote during the primary election. This resulted from a request made by Sen. Josh Green, who had no opponent in his race. An hour and a half was added, pushing the polls’ closure to 7:30 p.m.

Multiple Hawaii Island polling stations opened later than scheduled, with delays varying from a few minutes to almost an hour and a half, according to the governor’s office.

Tricia Kailiwai arrived at 7:45 a.m. to vote at Kona Vista Recreation Center, but when poll books hadn’t arrived by 8:20 a.m., she left. Kailiwai had to because her tennis team was counting of her to make a match in Kohala and she had other obligations that couldn’t be rescheduled. This is the first time the 64-year-old Kailua-Kona resident hasn’t voted since she came of age. She said it was “disheartening.”

Kailiwai said many voters became fed up and left. She described the scene as “a mini evacuation.” Kailiwai, who is active in local politics and has served on the Board of Ethics, always looks forward to Election Day excitement and doesn’t like early voting. This year, she’s “frustrated by the whole picture,” which will “most likely have a ripple effect on the county’s traditionally low voter turnout.” The 2010 primary election had just a 39.5 percent turnout. Kailiwai said she fulfilled her responsibility by showing up on time and ready to vote, and the county should have done the same.

Kailua-Kona resident John Spitzenberger called the situation at Kahakai Elementary ridiculous. He said poll workerrs gave him inaccurate information. There were promises of a 15-minute wait here and another five minutes there, but in reality it took more than an hour. Still Spitzenberger didn’t let it deter him from voting.

“If you don’t vote, you can’t (complain),” he added.

Spitzenberger was one of 41,247 residents who voted. About 41 percent of registered voters cast a ballot during the primary election. Of the 101,728 registered voters, 20,246 voted on Election Day and 21,001 cast an absentee ballot beforehand.

Several voters at Kahakai Elementary expressed concern about this election and the county’s election office, saying the delay caused further suspicion to emerge. Kailua-Kona resident John Repasky Sr. and his wife, Barbara, arrived at 7:10 a.m. to cast their ballots there. They waited roughly 90 minutes to vote. They heard five people explain that they only had an hour from their employer to vote. After the five were told by poll workers to wait or come back, the Repaskys watched all five people leave, clearly upset because they didn’t get to vote.

“They put the election in jeopardy,” John Repasky said. “For the people running, they lost about two hours of votes.”

Barbara Repasky has been following the news regarding the county election office, including the firing of employees. “With the debacle and shakeup,” Barbara said she couldn’t help but wonder if this was just another opportunity to prove that an election could not be run smoothly without the former elections administrator.

“You can’t help but think if they’re trying to prove something. All the while, people’s right to vote is being quashed,” she said. “Now it’s even more important to vote and to continue voting.”

Arriving at 7:15 a.m., Kailua-Kona resident Charlene Graciidis was surprised to see more than a dozen of people lined up outside Kahakai. While she and her husband, Donald, had time to spare, they witnessed many voters leave after waiting more than an hour and not reaching the polling booth.

Graciidis said people were frustrated and could not understand how the election office could be so ill-prepared.

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“It’s not fair. They came here on time, looking to vote, and they should get to vote,” Graciidis said. “Now the candidate they wanted to vote for might not get into office.”

Dru Kanuha, unopposed for the County Council Central Kona district seat, spent hours calming frustrated residents down, easing their distrust of government, and motivating them to vote. Some family members and friends had showed up at Kona Vista Recreation Center at 6:30 a.m. to vote — a right they didn’t exercise for about two hours.