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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 2:29 a.m., Sunday, September 19, 2004

Turnout slightly higher than last election

Full election coverage
Get detailed, updated results and read about the races and candidates in our Election 2004 special report, which includes our Voters' Guide.

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Voters in yesterday's primary election found something old, something new, and a whole lot of red, white and blue.

Glenn Keohohou, a welder from Kalihi who has voted for about 50 years, is trying to instill that habit in his children. Turnout was expected to be around 45 percent of eligible voters.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Old problems with color-coded party ballots caused confusion at many polling places statewide.

Those who tried a new electronic voting tablet system found it surprisingly easy to use. However, at about 10 p.m., elections officers realized the master storage units in five of the units had been left at their respective polling places on O'ahu, said Elwin Spray, chief elections observer.

As of 12:30 a.m. today workers were still waiting for custodians, or others with keys, to open the polling places, find the units and deliver them to the Capitol. Once the machines are located, those votes will be added to the final tally.

Overall, turnout on O'ahu was 40.8 percent of eligible voters, about the same percentage as in other recent primary elections.

However, a record 73,330 people voted by absentee or walk-in ballots this year, officials said. The Hawai'i National Guard requested 300 to 400 absentee ballots for guardsmen serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many of those who did go to the polls yesterday seemed to be there more out of civic duty than excitement with a particular candidate or issue.

"I vote every year, but it doesn't seem like there's much of a choice this time," said Kailua resident Bruce Ellis. "Nobody jumps out."

Good beach weather, a televised University of Hawai'i football game, lackluster races and the high number of people voting by absentee ballot all may have contributed to the generally slow pace at polling places yesterday.

"It's a ghost town, man," Hawai'i County Clerk Al Konishi said about an hour before the polls closed. "It's really, really low."

Hilo resident Patti Farley voted in the late afternoon in a nearly empty polling place at Hilo High. "It's sad — very sad," Farley said.

On Maui, Honokowai resident David Hawley had two things on his mind: voting and a possible south swell. Hawley, who said he was in his late 50s, wore shorts, slippers and no shirt when he arrived at the Lahaina Civic Center around 9:15 a.m. to vote before heading to the beach.

He was in and out of the polling place in a matter of minutes. "How much easier can you make it?" he said.

Hawley said he takes the privilege of voting seriously. "I try to talk to my friends about it, but it's like talking to a wall," he said.

Polling officials reported problems statewide with voters trying to cast their ballots for more than one party. However, optical readers flagged the problems, allowing residents a chance to vote again before leaving.

"Sometimes they had to do it two or three times to get it right, but the good news is they weren't disqualified as they might have been in the past," said Edward Slavish, a precinct chairman in Kailua.

Despite the problems, the election process is a minor miracle, Slavish said.

"If you told a major corporation they were going to do a job involving half a million people in one day with a crew of volunteers who get just one hour of training, they'd say you were crazy," he said.

For the first time, Hawai'i voters were given the option of using the electronic tablets instead of making their choice by hand. Early returns were mixed.

"It was really easy and worked really well," said 'Aikahi Park resident Joan Fleming, among the 25 percent of voters in her district who tried the new system.

Officials in other districts, however, said there was little interest in trying the system.

"I didn't see anybody at all who used it," Waimanalo poll worker Richard Behenna said. "We weren't really encouraging them."

Many people leaving the polls yesterday said they were uninspired by the candidates in big races, like that for Honolulu mayor.

"I vote because I like to gripe, but you can't gripe if you don't vote," said Joey Humel, a nurse from Waimanalo.

"I think every candidate should cut out all the jabberwocky and say what they're really going to do to make things better," added Kathy Conner, who said she had come directly from her son's wedding in Waimanalo to cast her vote.

"I think the bride is changing her clothes and coming next."

Several voters there said they were disappointed that more candidates didn't speak clearly about important issues.

"You hear them whining about their signs being stolen or something trivial when we've got a lot of real issues to deal with," said Anthony McWhorter, 32, who came to the polls with his wife, Lisa, 35, a teacher.

"Even my eighth-grade students are already jaded with politics," she said. "We need somebody who will clean things up."

Glenn Keohohou Sr. said he's been trying to instill the voting habit in his children.

"My grandparents always told me it was important to vote, and now I try to pass that on to my kids," said Keohohou, a welder from Kalihi who said he has been voting for about 50 years.

Advertiser staff writers Kevin Dayton and Christie Wilson contributed to this report. Contact Mike Leidemann at mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5460.