Volunteers make election possible

Kaua‘i County polling stations opened at 7 a.m. yesterday, but workers began preparing for voters long before sunrise.

By 4:30 a.m., Delivery Collections Teams were unloading ballots from a safe at the Historic County Building and gathering other supplies and equipment for transport north and west to the island’s 16 precincts, as well as the precinct on Ni‘ihau, totaling 17.

To ensure that the Ni‘ihau polling station received its materials on time, they were delivered via helicopter Friday and collected via the same method after polls closed yesterday.

The roughly 200 precinct workers who make elections happen every two years are a mostly volunteer force. Of course, they receive a stipend for their time of as much as $100, but most will tell you it’s not the pay that motivates them to commit to a more than 12-hour election day on top of four to six hours of training.

County Clerk Peter Nakamura said there have always been enough volunteers to get the job done on Kaua‘i. The same can’t be said for O‘ahu, where officials have taken to recruiting workers from local service organizations.

Lilia Valdez, chair of the precinct — District 1503 — voting at the Kaua‘i War Memorial Hall, has staffed Kaua‘i elections since 1972, starting as a precinct officer and working her way up to chair.

“I love it,” Valdez said. “If you have workers who are brand new, you know how to guide them so the election is smooth.”

The most common problems she encounters are voters who are confused by the ballots and others who are unsure of which precinct they’re registered at.

This year the convention hall absorbed half the registered voters previously assigned to the former Kaua‘i High School precinct, while the other half were sent to the Chiefess Kamakahelei site.

Valdez, who led a team of 13 workers at the hall yesterday, said she’s always impressed by the elderly voters who make the effort to vote in person despite physical impairments or difficulties traveling to the polling site.

Over the years, watching individuals cast their votes and decide elections, Valdez has gained an appreciation for the power of the process.

“What if 1,000 people said, ‘My vote is not important,’” Valdez said.

“It’s important (to vote) because we are in a democratic country,” she said. “If you voted, then you have exercised your rights.”

Cherry Ann Fernandez, a voting assistance officer at the convention hall working her fourth election, agreed.

“I believe you have to exercise your right to vote and power to voice your opinion,” Fernandez said.

The 2008 primary has seen a small increase in registered voters, up almost 3 percent from the 2006 primary to 38,874, according the Office of the County Clerk.

Another trend this election cycle: a jump in the number of absentee ballot requests, with roughly 46 percent more this year over 2006.

Early voting, however, declined 27 percent this primary compared to the 2006 primary.

This year, like elections past, the county used both paper and electronic voting methods. Each precinct has at least one Direct Recording Electronic machine, which is ADA approved and paperless. The majority of voters, though, record their votes on paper ballots, which are scanned on-site.

Nakamura said the county is not planning on phasing out paper ballots entirely any time soon.

The biggest shifts during the primary were declines in walk-in early voting on Kaua‘i and an increase in absentee ballot requests.

The island saw a 27.2 percent decline in 2008 to 2,841 walk-in voters, compared to 3,615 in 2006, according to the Kaua‘i Office of the County Clerk.

There was a 46.2 percent rise in the number of absentee mail ballots sent out per request, with roughly 6,100 this year, compared to about 4,200 in 2006.

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