State election official Wayne Hirayama and others set up phone lines and computers in the “control center” in the Makai Courtroom of the Hilo State Office Building on Thursday afternoon. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
State Election Officials David Rosenbrock and Kim Rodrigues set up the control center with phone lines and computers in the Makai Courtroom of the Hilo State Office Building Thursday afternoon. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
The absentee ballots have been mailed, the precinct cans are being packed, and phone lines at the control center are being connected.
So far, the preparations for the Nov. 6 general election appear to be coming together like any other, despite a shift in roles for Hawaii County and the state Office of Elections.
“We’re packing cans, delivering equipment … everything you would do for an election,” said Scott Nago, state chief elections officer.
As of Oct. 2, the state office has taken charge of administering the election on the Big Island, assuming most roles usually delegated to the counties, from delivering election material to tallying votes.
The move was in response to several problems during the county’s primary, including the delayed opening of 13 polling places.
Nago said he has six staff members working on the Big Island to prepare for the election, a process that began about two weeks ago.
This week, state Precinct Operations Section Head Judy Gold arrived in Hilo to provide training, he said.
The state will operate an election control center at the state building in Hilo, located adjacent to the county’s administrative offices in Hilo.
Nago said state workers are installing computers and phone lines in preparation of election day. Election materials are also being packaged, he said.
The state is responsible this time around for hiring precinct workers and other election day support staff, which will total over 600. Nago didn’t have the number hired so far immediately available, but he said it’s at least half.
The county’s responsibilities have been limited to voter registration and handling absentee ballots.
But it won’t have its lights turned off on election day.
County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi said the county’s Election Division, which she oversees, will be on hand to assist the state if needed as well as process any remaining absentee ballots.
“We’re going to be staffed like normal operations” for an election year, she said.
That includes a staff of 20 in the office, 13 of which are temps.
Kawauchi said the staff members are needed to process the 22,200 absentee ballots mailed this year.
“To process those ballots, we definitely need all those people,” she said.
Last year, the county saw 6,400 absentee ballots returned.
The sharp increase is due to absentee registration forms being mailed to each of the county’s approximately 101,000 registered voters.
On election day, those ballots will be transferred to the state for counting.
About 1,000 have been returned so far, said Lehua Iopa, acting county elections program administrator.
Kawauchi said her office is in contact with the state “a few times a week” and she believes voters will see a smooth election.
“I think both the state and county will be ready and prepared,” she said.
Nago said voters shouldn’t notice a difference on election day since polling places will remain the same.
Early walk-in voting starts Tuesday and runs through Nov. 3 at three locations: the Aupuni Center conference room in Hilo, Building G at the county’s West Hawaii center in Kailua-Kona, and the Waimea Community Center.
Polling hours are from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Early walk-in voting at the Waimea Community Center will be closed Oct. 27.
Voters can receive an absentee ballot up until Oct. 30.