Thousands of votes statewide were invalidated, mostly on Oahu, and most affected voters won’t necessarily know if theirs was counted.

Always Investigating asked every county clerk’s office how many votes got set aside this November in what’s become the most popular way to vote: absentee mail ballots.

Turns out more than 1,200 simply arrived too late to be counted, either put in the mail too close or after the cutoff, or dropped off past the deadline.

Ballots kept trickling in well past the Nov. 6 Election Day. As of last count, Honolulu County received 720 late, Hawaii County 110, Kauai 56, and Maui 345.

Nearly 900 votes that had made it on time were declared invalid, mostly from mismatched signatures, some missing signatures altogether, and a handful that were second ballots by folks who had also gone to the polls.

Of those nearly 900 invalidated, 619 were on Oahu, 230 on Hawaii Island, nine on Kauai, and 18 on Maui.

2018 General Election Invalidated Absentee Ballots

  Honolulu Hawaii island Kauai Maui Total
Final Tally 619 230 9 18 876

“I was really impressed that you got these numbers, because sometimes voting can be a black box so it’s good to have this transparency,” said Corie Tanida of Common Cause Hawaii.

Didn’t even get your absentee ballot in the first place? You’re not alone. Nearly 6,500 ballots were returned, unopened and unvoted, to elections officials, who sent out more than 1,400 replacements.

Honolulu County had 3,323 returned-to-sender, and fulfilled 1,402 replacement-ballot requests. Hawaii County had 1,747 blanks bounce back and replaced 864. Kauai had 373 bad addresses with 46 replaced. Maui had 1,012 returned unvoted with 111 replacements sent.

2018 General Election Absentee Ballots

  Honolulu Hawaii island Kauai Maui Total
Ballots Returned 3,323 1,747 373 1,012 6,455
Replacement Ballots Sent 381 864 46 111 1,402

Once a mail ballot arrives back to the election facilities, they are screened for signatures with missing or mismatched ones set aside.

Always Investigating found out two years ago that while the neighbor island counties sent out second-chance letters to many of those voters, Honolulu did not. Flagged ballots were simply invalidated, boxed up and sealed.

“Oftentimes you might mail in your ballot, forget about it, be done with it,” Tanida said, “but we want to make sure every vote is counted and is processed correctly.”

Honolulu changed its procedure this year, which boosted the number of voters who at least got to know their vote was in peril.

A total of 562 voters statewide got a second chance to sign or correct a non-matching signature, and nearly 250 voters responded with a fix that became a counted vote. Honolulu County sent 410 second-chance letters with 165 responding to fix; Kauai send 52 letters and got 11 repaired ballots; Maui sent 100 letters and 72 responded. Hawaii County did not provide its breakdown.

Second-chance letters to unsigned/mismatched signature absentee ballots

  Honolulu Hawaii island Kauai Maui Total
Letters Sent 410 Unavailable 52 100 562
Ballots Fixed 165 Unavailable 11 72 248

“I am glad they are following up with people,” Tanida said, “but I do hope people take that chance and rectify the situation.

For those thousands still invalidated, we asked what more can be done? The onus in many cases is on voters.

“Elections officials do their best to let people know ballots need to be received by 6 p.m. on Election Day, not just mailed out and postmarked,” Tanida said.

Rex Quidilla of Honolulu County’s Elections Division told us “online ballot tracking — the ability to track absentee mail ballot progress to and possibly, from the voter — is a service the City would be interested in establishing for voters.”

Currently second-chance letters do not go out to people whose ballots are invalidated by screening if that mail arrived too close for a second try to make it back. They also don’t notify people in the piles received after the deadline has passed.

“This was the first election using the State of Hawaii’s new voter registration system, TotalVote,” Quidilla said, “which replaced the City-run mainframe-based system that was in place for over three decades. The goal is to further refine the new system.”

If you want to know whether your vote was counted or invalidated, elections officials say you can ask your county office directly. We’ll follow up on any future changes in procedures and voter education about how to make sure every vote can count.