HONOLULU (KHON2) — The 2020 elections are under way and they’ll look a lot different in Hawaii due to the shift to mostly mail-in system. KHON2 has what you need to know for the primary election.

Hawaii’s more than 700,000 registered voters can cast their ballots entirely by mail if they want to this year, with a handful of vote-in-person locations statewide. Today we got a look at how your votes will get collected and tallied.

If you’re a registered voter, you should be getting your ballot by mail by this week. Many received them last week.

What’s next? Make your primary choices and mail them back in time for the county clerks to get them by Aug. 8, the official election day.

“We pay for return postage,” said Honolulu City Clerk Glen Takahashi. “You don’t need to stamp in order to return your ballot.”

Officials are advising to put it in the mail by Aug. 3. The ballot has to be in hand at the county offices by 7 p.m. on August 8th, not just postmarked.

“We’re recommending 5 days early,” said the state’s Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago. “So if you’re going to wait, use a place of deposit or drop it off at a voter service center or take it directly to the clerk’s office.”

There are two voter service centers on Oahu, two on the Big Island, and one each on Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Lanai where people can vote in person Mondays through Saturdays from July 27 through Aug. 8.

As for the “place of deposit” — that means new yellow drop boxes stationed at various parks and public facilities. They’re supposed to be emptied daily and they will be manned on election night to close just like a polling place would have.

“What’s going to happen is at 7p.m., if there’s a line, we will have an election official stand at the back of the line to not let anybody into that line after 7 p.m.,” Nago explained. “Once everybody who was in line prior to 7 p.m. deposited their ballot, that ballot box will be locked, the ballots will be collected and transported to the clerk’s office for validation.”

That’s where they compare signatures on ballots as they have been doing with thousands of votes sent back already.

“We do have a lot of signatures where husbands and wives have signed the wrong envelope,” Nago said. “In the past those wouldn’t have been counted. This year, however, with the new law they will be notified in writing by the clerk’s office and they will have five days after the election to correct it.”

As for concerns about a signature being visible on the envelope:

“You’re welcome to use your own envelope and place your ballot return envelope in that and return it to us,” Takahashi said. “Again that’s why we have some of these places of deposit and these boxes so you can drop it off directly and not have to worry about an intermediary such as the U.S. Postal Service handling this envelope.”

Absentee ballot envelopes — the way the majority of votes have been cast in recent elections — also had signatures on the outside.

KHON2 asked Nago: “To your knowledge had there ever been any suspected identity theft case or any security issue that came out of any of those?”

“No, we never got any issues,” Nago said.

There are security measures to protect what’s inside until it’s time to count. The Hawaii Convention Center will serve as Oahu’s counting center, the first time in decades it has not been at the state Capitol.

“All ballots are opened up after they have been validated in the presence of official observers,” Nago said. “So it’s not like it’s done in a back room. It’s done all in the open at those tables there will be official observers from the parties watching the whole process.”

If you haven’t gotten your ballot or need a replacement, that can be requested online or by phone. If you get a ballot for someone who is no longer at your address or has passed away, send it right back to the clerks “return to sender” unopened.

“We do know there are persons on our rolls who are deceased because it is unreported to us,” Takahashi said.

The county clerks receive Department of Health lists monthly of who is deceased, but as they crosscheck those, “if there are questions about whether we’re correctly identifying a voter on the voter file as deceased, we’re going to err on the side of letting the record remain because we don’t want to disenfranchise the voter by erroneously marking them as deceased,” Takahashi said.

Stay with KHON2 on primary election night Aug. 8. The first results will be out after 7 p.m. and will include all votes received up through the day before. Gina Mangieri will be at the Hawaii Convention Center to bring you the first results.

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