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Officials warn Hawaii mail voting won’t mean faster results

  • Hawaii County Clerk Jon Henricks speaks to lawmakers at a briefing at the Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu, on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Elections officials are warning that shifting to voting by mail won’t mean that Hawaii election results will be available sooner. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

  • Honolulu County Clerk Glen Takahashi speaks to lawmakers at a briefing at the Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu, on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Elections officials are warning that shifting to voting by mail won’t mean that Hawaii election results will be available sooner. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

HONOLULU — Elections officials warned Wednesday that shifting to voting by mail won’t mean that Hawaii election results will be available sooner.

“The ability to get final results by the 10 o’clock news or midnight may be an unrealistic expectation in the transition to vote by mail,” Glen Takahashi, Honolulu’s clerk, told lawmakers at a briefing.

Based on voting patterns in states that already vote by mail, Takahashi said many voters are likely to drop off their ballots in deposit boxes on election day. These ballots won’t be collected until 7 p.m., he said.

“We don’t know how many are going to be in the boxes at 7 p.m. If that number is large, it’s going to take some time to process,” Takahashi said.

He said election workers may be processing ballots into the morning after election day.

Gov. David Ige earlier this year signed legislation instituting voting by mail across all counties starting with the 2020 primary election on August 8.

Hawaii is the fourth state to shift to all-mail elections. Oregon was the first in 2000, followed by Washington state and Colorado.

Many Hawaii voters have already been voting by mail by using absentee ballots.

In 2014, more than half of primary election voters cast their ballots early, and about 83 percent of them voted using a mail-in absentee ballot.

Lawmakers initially planned for Kauai County to run a pilot program for all-mail voting next year. But they decided to extend the program across the state to reduce logistical issues.

“The idea here is to make it easier for people to vote and to get more people voting. And that’s something that’s been seen in other states that have started to move forward with these kinds of measures,” said Rep. Chris Lee, a Democrat from Kailua and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

In the long run, he said the state will likely save money by using voting by mail.

Primary election voters will start receiving their ballots and instructions on July 21. To be counted, the ballots must be mailed so that they are received by election officials on election day.

Election authorities will set up a limited number of voter service centers where people may drop off their mail-in ballots or cast their ballots in person if they choose. For the primary, these will open on July 27 and remain operating through election day.

Takahashi said Oahu will also have eight to 10 ballot deposit boxes. They each weigh 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms) and are made of quarter-inch (6 millimeter) welded steel so they can’t be broken into. A forklift will be needed to move them around, he said.

Maui County Clerk Josiah Nishita said Maui would have voter service centers, as would Molokai. He said the county was still working on trying to set one up on the small island of Lanai but was having difficulty finding personnel to staff the center for the hours and days required by the new state law.

Nishita said Maui County would like some flexibility for hours and days that voter service centers would be open. Lanai has a population of about 3,000 people.

Nishita and Hawaii County Clerk Jon Henricks said their counties have recently purchased machines that will scan and verify the signatures on mail-in ballots to make sure they match the signatures the county clerks have on file for voters. Honolulu has been using the same machine since 2014 and will continue to use it.

Kauai County Clerk Jade Fountain-Tanigawa said her county couldn’t justify buying one of the machines because it has fewer voters. Election officials on Kauai will verify the signatures manually, she said.

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