Near midnight wait leads to call for more voting centers by 2022

Election 2020

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Long lines at two Oahu voter service centers made it a long night for voters waiting in line for hours to cast their ballots and those eager to hear the results.

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KHON2 followed up with elections officials to find out what happened and what needs to change next time around.

Some voter service centers moved like clockwork and mostly by the election clock. Kauai finished in-person voting just after 7 p.m. Maui and Kona closed about an hour after that, and Hilo at 8:30 p.m.

But on Oahu, people were still in line at Honolulu Hale until 10:30 p.m. and Kapolei Hale until nearly 11:30 p.m.

“Having people wait in upward of four hours to vote is, to me, unacceptable because I myself wouldn’t do that,” said Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago. “I wouldn’t want to have to wait four hours, so it’s something we’re going to have to figure out so this doesn’t happen.”

Nago is not alone in that critique.

“Common Cause had volunteers handing out food and water at voter service centers just to keep people in line to help them stay hydrated and fed,” said Sandy Ma, from the public advocacy group Common Cause.

Nago says the backlog was due to processing new same-day voter registrations and updates, not because there was a shortage of voting machines.

“My understanding is they added another (voter registration) terminal roughly in the last hour to speed up the process,” Nago said.

It is up to each county clerk to plan and run their voter service centers, and where to put the dropboxes.

The Honolulu County clerk’s office told KHON2 in a statement:

“Everything’s on the table. The Elections Division will review its entire operations and consider various measures, including the possibility of additional service centers, to meet future voter needs.”

Voting advocates say that it has to be a priority before the next election.

“Some people have to go vote in-person at a voter service center, and just having two for an island population of 1,000,000 did create problems,” Ma said. “We’re going to go back again during the 2021 legislative session next year and ask for more fixes to the vote-by-mail law. We want more voter service centers, a minimum level. We want more drop boxes throughout the state.”

Nago says they will try again to get additional short-term surge centers for remote areas.

“The way the law is currently written it has to be all or nothing, so it has to be open for 10 entire days,” Nago said. “We did try to amend the law so that we could add additional voter service centers for smaller periods. In Hana, for example, if we could find a facility to do three days — like two days before election and election day — those three days would be better than nothing.”

More than 550,000 voted by mail and dropbox, but voting officials and advocates do not disparage the 28,742 people who wanted to or had to vote in-person, with about 7,900 doing so on Election Day.

“We did receive reports about people who timely registered to vote, doublechecked their address to make sure their address was correct on the state’s website but still did not receive their ballot in the mail,” Ma said. “People who are houseless and unsheltered do not have a permanent address and they need to go vote. These people are citizens, they have a right to vote.”

Some disabled people can only cast votes on electronic-accessible machines. New or returning residents who just got here and people who were still weighing their decisions until the end also chose to vote in-person.

“It is absolutely reasonable to take your time to be an informed voter, and if you need time to think about the candidates, to study the issues, you should take the time to do so,” said Ma.

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