HONOLULU — Democratic Party of Hawaii members can use mail-in ballots to select their choice for presidential nominee this year to avoid the long lines of past party caucuses.
The party plans to mail ballots to registered Democrats during the first week of March.
Democrats may instead vote in person if they wish on April 4 at one of 21 polling sites around the state. The party will allow same-day party enrollment at polling places.
“We’re trying to make the intake process fast to avoid long lines,” said Kate Stanley, the party’s interim chairwoman.
The party is calling the election a party-run presidential primary because it won’t feature people discussing their selections at meetings, unlike typical caucuses. Instead, members will be voting by paper ballot. But unlike primaries, which are generally run by state and local governments, the party will be in charge of this one.
Voters will mark their top three choices on paper ballots, which will be counted by scanning machines.
Hawaii Democrats have hired a contractor, Merriman River Group, to handle aspects of the election, including designing the vote-by-mail package, safely keeping returned ballots and transporting ballots from polling sites to scanning sites.
The company has experience running elections for labor unions and organizations such as the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, the electric utility on Kauai island, and a 16,000-member residential association in the Honolulu suburb of Mililani.
Hawaii Democrats aren’t changing their plans after technical glitches at the Democrats’ Iowa caucus earlier this month led to a dayslong delay in reporting the results, inconsistencies in numbers and no clear winner.
“It’s helped us focus our attention to make sure we’re comfortable with what we’ve decided to do. And we’re sticking with what we’ve decided to do,” Stanley said.
Stanley pointed out major differences between Hawaii and Iowa, including the fact that Midwestern state gathered results from 1,700 precincts while Hawaii will have results from mail-in ballots and about 20 polling places.
Hawaii Republicans canceled their presidential caucus after President Donald Trump was the only candidate to declare for the party ballot by a December deadline.
The party estimates about 55,000 people will vote. That would top the record of more than 37,000 who turned out in 2008, the year Honolulu-born Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination for his first term as president.
The ease of voting by mail may boost participation, but turnout is difficult to predict, Stanley said. The state party currently has 65,000 members.
Only candidates receiving at least 15% of the votes cast in a given congressional district will be allocated delegates. Votes for candidates who don’t receive at least 15% will be redistributed to voters’ second-ranked choices, starting with the candidate who received the lowest number of votes.
The outcome of the vote will determine the allocation of 24 delegates and two alternates to the Democratic National Convention.
Hawaii will have another nine automatic delegates, including Hawaii’s U.S. senators and representatives and other party leaders. The nine automatic delegates won’t vote on the first ballot at the national convention.