Ballots pouring in: Elections Division machines sort, count ballots

  • Hawaii County's new $225,000 machine shown Tuesday in the basement of the county building in Hilo, slits the envelopes, sorts the ballots and verifies signatures. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • Daniel Olsen feeds envelopes into the ballot sorting machine Tuesday in Hilo. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto, left, packs ballot envelopes Tuesday in the basement of the county building after they were sorted by the county's new machine. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • Hawaii County’s new $225,000 machine shown Tuesday in the basement of the county building in Hilo, slits the envelopes, sorts the ballots and verifies signatures. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

Deep in the basement of the county building in Hilo, a mammoth machine whizzes through up to 18,000 ballot envelopes an hour, slices them open, time- and date-stamps them, checks the thickness to ensure they contain ballots, verifies signatures and sorts them by precinct.

Elections Division workers then transfer the sorted ballot envelopes to bins, where they’re parked in locked cages until they make the trip to the counting center, where another machine reads and tallies the votes. Two officials sign and record the seal number on a seal certification form securing the ballots.

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Hawaii County had received 36,669 ballots as of Monday and counted 34,300 of them, said Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto. That compares with a total of 43,817 total votes cast in the 2018 primary and 40,928 cast in the 2016 primary.

The preliminary vote counts are secured inside the counting machines and votes will be added to them through Election Day. The first printout of ballot results is expected to be released shortly after 7 p.m. Saturday, said state Election Official Scott Nago.

Hawaii switched to a procedure this year mailing ballots to every registered voter, but there are several ways to get your ballot back in time. With Election Day on Saturday, it’s probably better to drop your ballot off rather than mail it if you haven’t mailed it yet. The ballot has to be received — not postmarked — by 7 p.m. Saturday.

Voters can check whether their ballot has been received at https://ballotstatus.hawaii.gov

If the mail-in ballot hasn’t shown up on the website as being received, voters should contact the Elections Division at 961-8277.

Ballots can be taken to a voter service center, where people can also register to vote, exchange spoiled ballots for fresh ones and vote in person using equipment that is physically accessible to eligible voters with disabilities and elderly voters. There are two voter service centers on the Big Island: Aupuni Center in Hilo and the West Hawaii Civic Center in Kailua-Kona, open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Election Day.

Ballots can also be dropped off at boxes — called “places of deposit” in the law — from now through Election Day. Ballots are collected daily. Drop boxes are located at the Hawaii County building in Hilo, Naalehu police station, Pahoa police station, Rodney Yano Hall in Captain Cook, Waimea police station and the West Hawaii Civic Center.

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Voters who are notified their signatures weren’t accepted will have up to five business days after the election to fix it so their ballot will count.

“An attempt is made to contact each voter by email or telephone call to inform them of the error,” Nakamoto said.

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