“May the best man win,” said Paz Valdez as she pumped her fist in the air Thursday outside of the County Elections Division office. It was raining, but the bad weather didn’t stop the 94-year-old Lihue woman from voting.
It was early afternoon Thursday and people were coming and going to vote in the primary election. It was the last day for early voting and it was busy. Voters were greeting each other with hugs and handshakes as they chatted about the election and life.
Early voting polls closed at 4 p.m., but voters still have an opportunity to cast their ballots Saturday. This election will decide which two Kauai mayoral candidates will move on to November’s general election. It will also decide the 14 council candidates who advance.
The county reported Thursday night that the number of absentee ballots mailed out was 12,925, with the number of absentee ballots returned at 7,815. The number of early voters was 2,623.
Dorrine Ramelb, Valdez’ daughter, said voting is important because it gives you a voice. The Lihue woman said some of the issues she’s concerned about are traffic, the homeless and the elderly.
“Don’t grumble if you don’t vote. If you want a change, just vote,” she said.
Kapaa resident Joel Oyama said he has voted in every election since he was 18 years old and he is trying to encourage his son to vote, even though he’s not planning to stay on Kauai.
“It’s your responsibility and privilege actually of a democracy,” he said.
Oyama said affordable housing, the environment and diversifying the economy are key issues.
“We shouldn’t be so dependent on tourism,” he said.
Kapaa resident Angelei Hauge-Valko said voting is a way to show support for the people you know who will try to make a difference. She had just voted for Councilman Derek Kawakami, who is running for mayor.
“I feel he’s very real. After the flooding I was part of the Community Emergency Response team and he was right there,” she said. “No cameras following him or anything, but he was right there helping, actually sweating, loading and doing things to help at the helicopter site.”
Because there are 24 candidates for county council, Hauge-Valko said making her decision was a little more difficult, but she ended up voting for some of the new candidates.
“So at least when you see someone who you voted for get there and they start doing good things, you feel a part of good things that will happen, because you helped them,” she said.
Koloa resident Janet Nathanson voted early because she is paddling in a canoe race Saturday and can’t make it to the polls.
“Life on Kauai is what you make it, and if you want to contribute to a good life for yourself and people here, you need to have people in the places that make decisions for life that will represent your voice,” she said. “So what every voice is, let it be heard by participating in our government process.”
“Our elected officials help determine the future of our island and help to direct problems we’re experiencing here,” said Wailua resident Jeanne Haapala.
Traffic, affordable housing and homelessness are major concerns for Haapala, who said she voted for some of the new candidates.
“I’m both surprised and a little dismayed that there are so many candidates for some of the offices because of course it can water down the votes, but we are electing several people, a whole council,” she said.
One of the issues voters have faced during this election, said Nancy Walsh, Haapala’s wife, is finding information about the candidates.
“When you have 24 candidates, it’s really intimidating so those Q&A things help a little bit,” she said.
Walsh said if Kauai was broken down in districts, voting would be less daunting.
Haapala, who worked in local government for nearly 40 years, said two-year terms don’t make sense.
“For anyone new, it doesn’t give them enough time to get up to speed and to really understand the inner workings of the governmental entity, let alone long-term strategy, how to set it up and how to support it,” she said. “You need people in office a little longer than that. Having the whole council turn over every two years doesn’t make sense either.”
Staggered terms and a combination of precincts and zones offer continuity, Haapala said.
“Sometimes the people who are the most experienced and knowledgeable tend to come from the population centers, but not always, so maybe there could be some sort of blended approach used,” she said.
Michael Law, who lives in the Wailua Homesteads, said he voted because it’s what you’re supposed to do.
“It’s the American way. You can’t squawk if you don’t vote, so I’ve got a bone to pick with anybody, a politician or anybody else, you have to vote, otherwise you just have to shut up,” he said.
Law said traffic is his biggest concern.
Princeville resident Gerald Moore said he voted to make his voice heard. He said it’s hard to tell how this year’s election is going.
“There’s been a whole lot of signs, but not a whole lot of information put out, so it’s up to you to do your research. I’ve read stuff in the paper and what they’re going to fix and what they’re not going to fix and nobody’s got a good plan for the roads and stuff,” he said.
Roads are his top concern.
“I voted for three council members, I didn’t vote for any of the incumbents and I voted a non-partisan slate,” he said.
Bethany Freudenthal, crime, courts and county reporter, can be reached at 652-7891 or firstname.lastname@example.org.