County preps for all-mail election

Runbeck ballot sorting machine. Copyrighted photo used with permission from Runbeck Election Services Inc.
Runbeck ballot sorting machine. Copyrighted photo used with permission from Runbeck Election Services Inc.

HILO — Hawaii County, like the rest of the state, is preparing for a totally mail-in election next year, and the first step is to acquire new machinery to handle it.

The county Standardization Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a single-source vendor for a ballot sorting machine that will be consistent with the other counties in the state. The Runbeck machine, estimated at $225,000, may also need a special room and dedicated fiber optic line and power source, Finance Director Deanna Sako said.


The state Legislature passed a bill requiring all-mail elections, beginning with the Aug. 8, 2020, primary, and Gov. David Ige is expected to sign it. The bill, HB 1248, is supported by the state Office of Elections and all four county elections administrators.

The bill appropriates $830,731 to be split among the counties to help pay for equipment and training.

The Runbeck ballot sorting system can process up to 18,000 pieces an hour, according to the manufacturer, Tempe, Arizona-based Runbeck Election Services Inc. It time- and date-stamps ballot envelopes, automatically captures images and verifies signatures, sorts ballots for faster vote-counting and has full audit capabilities.

Not only is the machine consistent with those being purchased in the rest of the state, it has the added benefit of having been proven compatible with the statewide elections voter registration system, TotalVote, said Deputy County Clerk Aaron Brown in a memo to the committee. He said the City and County of Honolulu purchased the Runbeck system more than three years ago and found it compatible.

“This will allow the counties to create synergy across the state where information and training can be shared and implemented, while greatly reducing the learning curve for the counties who are looking to implement these systems,” Brown said. “There may also be large cost-sharing opportunities with all the counties using this proven machine as costs can be shared or split between the counties for installation, training and servicing.”

Mail-in balloting has become increasing popular in Hawaii County and statewide. Early voting, which includes mail-in ballots and early voting at centralized voting sites, now makes up more than half of all completed ballots.

County Clerk Jon Henricks, who oversees the county Elections Division, said his office had already budgeted for a high-speed sorter prior to the bill making its way through the Legislature. It’s needed, he said, to handle the increasing volume, not just due to the increased popularity of mailed ballots, but also to the county’s increasing population.

“Even without (the Legislature acting), we were heading in this direction anyway,” Henricks said.

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