County elections officials worried about finding poll workers for special election

Kaua’i elections officials are worried about finding enough people to work at polling places during the Saturday, Nov. 30 special election.

Happening in the middle of Thanksgiving weekend on the same day as the big UH-Alabama college football game at Aloha Stadium, that election is to choose someone to fill the remaining 45 days of the term of the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink (D, Neighbor Islands and rural O’ahu).

So far, only a handful of those Kauaians who worked at polling places for the primary election have indicated they’ll be available for the Saturday, Nov. 30 special election, said County Clerk Peter Nakamura.

For the primary election, and the Tuesday, Nov. 5 general election, elections officials have found enough people to work at polling places, and in other capacities, he said.

But if you wondered why elections officials with the City and County of Honolulu had trouble finding qualified people to work at polling places, consider the regimen that Kaua’i poll workers endured during last month’s primary election:

They were required to show up at polling places at 5:30 in the morning, stay until beyond 7 p.m. that day, never leave their assigned polling places, provide in some cases nonstop assistance to voters, bring their own lunches, and get paid only a token honorarium for their efforts.

In addition, those wishing to work at the precincts were required in advance to complete a two-hour class, with precinct chairs mandated to take another, separate, two-hour class. All of this training is unpaid.

Precinct workers are paid between $75 and $145 for their long day’s work on election day.

To ensure the integrity of the voting process, county elections officials ask a lot of poll workers, said Nakamura.

Nakamura and others in the Office of the County Clerk Elections Division were pleased to see a number of young people participating as precinct workers during the primary.

Around 200 people worked at voting locations from Hanalei Elementary School to Kekaha Neighborhood Center and, for the first time, Niihau Elementary and High School.

Voters on Ni’ihau were able to go to the polls on their home island, at the school. In the past they voted mainly through mail-in absentee balloting.

Another 60 people worked at the counting center, on the campus of Kauai Community College, under watchful eyes of volunteers from the political parties and representatives of the Kauai Police Department.

Several others distributed ballots, voting machines and other printed voter information to the polling places across the island, and at the end of the day collected the ballot boxes and other materials.

Not many problems were reported at the polls, even with the 2001 reapportionment process changing state House and Senate district lines, precinct lines and, in some cases, voters’ polling places, Nakamura said.

Problems with Hawai’i’s single-party primary system, where voters aren’t allowed to cast votes for members of more than one political party in party-designated races like governor, U.S. House of Representatives, and state House and Senate, were also minimal on election day, he said.

Of 18,737 people who voted, just 140, or less than 1 percent of all voters, had their ballots invalidated by voting for more than one party in the partisan races.

While Nakamura was quick to praise those willing to give up an entire weekend day to assist at the polls at the primary, he also talked about some extraordinary efforts of Elections Division officials to deliver ballots to those homebound or hospital-bound folks wishing to vote.

Officials have in the past taken ballots to those registered voters homebound or in hospitals or care homes, stayed with them as they voted, then brought the ballots back for counting, he said.

Further, Nakamura reminded those who request absentee ballots by mail that it is a felony offense to either request such a ballot on behalf of another person, or attempt to vote for someone who has requested such a ballot.

Safeguards in place to prevent fraudulent use of mail-in absentee ballots include both elections officials and volunteers checking names, signatures, Social Security numbers, addresses, and other information on those requesting and returning absentee mail-in ballots.

Even the volunteers have the ability to invalidate mail-in ballots, if there are questions regarding signatures or other matters, he said.

And his office takes seriously reports of fraudulent or attempted fraudulent use of mail-in absentee ballots, he said.

In last month’s primary election, 2,665 people requested mail-in absentee ballots, and 2,652 voted in that manner.

County elections officials sent out general election absentee ballots to overseas voters last month, and earlier this month was the deadline to register to vote in the general election.

Walk-in absentee voting started Tuesday, Oct. 22 at the Historic County Building, and Tuesday, Oct. 29 is the last day for voters to request absentee mail-in ballots from the county clerk for the general and Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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