‘Huge turnout:’ West Hawaii voters flock to make choices in person

  • As of 7 p.m. — when polls were scheduled to close in Hawaii — only 36 people remained in line at the West Hawaii Civic Center. All were inside casting ballots by 7:30 p.m. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • The West Hawaii County Band performs while citizens cast their ballots Tuesday evening at the West Hawaii Civic Center. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

  • The socially-distanced line of people waiting to vote at the West Hawaii Civic Center wraps around Building G on Tuesday afternoon. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

  • Bobbie Awa drops off her ballot at the West Hawaii Civic Center on Tuesday. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

  • Dusty Esteban surveys his ballot as he votes at the West Hawaii Civic Center on Tuesday. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

Despite a statewide shift to vote by mail, Big Island voters flocked to the voter service center in West Hawaii to cast ballots in person on Tuesday culminating with a big Election Day surge.

The state has already seen a record turnout with early votes in 2020, and the total amount of ballots cast in the 50th state was likely to see a significant jump in the final hours of voting despite results being delayed due to long lines in East Hawaii and on Oahu.

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“I think there’s been a huge turnout,” said Penny Lopez, a poll worker at the West Hawaii Civic Center, of this year’s numbers. “More than when it wasn’t mail-in.”

As one of only two voter service centers in Hawaii County, the West Hawaii Civic Center saw a steady stream of voters on Election Day, starting as early as 7 a.m. Scores of voters waited in a line that wrapped around Building G, though wait times were typically less than an hour.

“It’s been close to 45 minutes,” said voter Jose Jazmin as he reached the front of the line at the building’s entrance.

“Not too much difference; there’s still usually a wait,” added fellow voter John Trumper, comparing his experience to past years. “It’s a little more spread out.”

Though the battles for the president and U.S. House aren’t expected to be tightly contested on the Orchid Isle, the Big Island is home to multiple close contests. The big race was for county mayor, where Hawaii County prosecutor Mitch Roth and political newcomer Ikaika Marzo are vying for the job.

In-person voting for the general election in Hawaii began on Oct. 20, and many Big Island residents took advantage of the extra time to show up at the polls early. The civic center consistently had voters casting ballots in person in the weeks leading up to Nov. 3.

“Saturdays were really empty, but the other days we averaged around 120 to 150 people,” said Lopez.

As some places on the mainland witnessed cases of voter intimidation, unofficial poll watching and extraordinarily long waits, voting in West Hawaii proceeded largely without issue Tuesday. As of 7 p.m. — when polls were scheduled to close in Hawaii — only 36 people remained in line at the West Hawaii Civic Center. All were inside casting ballots by 7:30 p.m.

As expected with a record turnout, voter enthusiasm appeared high at the polls. Though separated by an ocean, issues on the mainland played a factor in raising the Big Island’s turnout.

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“I’m excited to vote because of all we’ve been hearing, all the stuff that’s happening,” said Jazmin. “We want to be able to contribute.”

“Having your voice heard is the most important thing right now; if not, nothing’s going to change,” added Trumper. “You can gripe about things, but if you’re not out there voting, don’t gripe.”

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