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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mail-only ballot scored win in special election

 •  Djou heading to D.C.

Advertiser Staff

Voters of the 1st Congressional District made it clear: When given the choice, most of the people in the district prefer to mail their ballots.

Turnout for the three-week-long special election was 54 percent. Out of 317,337 registered voters in the district, 171,417 people cast a vote, according to the final tally released shortly after 9 last night.

That's substantially more than the 13.3 percent turnout in 2003, the last time there was a mid-term, winner-take-all election to replace the 2nd Congressional District representative. That election was a traditional, polling-place election.

This election was the first to use a mail-only format with such a large voter base.

Two mail-only City Council special elections last year attracted 41 percent and 45 percent of voters.

Statewide voter turnout was 66 percent in the 2008 general election a presidential election year and a record-low 53 percent in 2006.

Of those who voted in this special election, only 2,302 people, or 1.3 percent, chose to walk in to use ballot booths set up at Honolulu Hale. The overwhelming number of voters mailed in their ballots.

Chief elections officer Scott Nago said there were no glitches reported.

Some political observers viewed this election as a test case to see if future elections might go mail-only. Ultimately, the decision will be up to the state Legislature.

It was during the 2003 legislative session, following the 2002 special elections to fill the vacancies left by the conviction of Councilman Andy Mirikitani and the death of U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, that state lawmakers passed a law to allow state and county election offices to use the all-mail system under the extraordinary circumstances requiring a special election.

Election officials said they wanted the option to go to all-mail because of evidence that it would be more efficient from a logistics standpoint and possibly save money. The election cost the state an estimated $900,000, whereas the more traditional type of election would have cost roughly $1.2 million.

On the Mainland, Oregon has been conducting elections by mail-only ballots for the past decade, while many jurisdictions in Washington state use vote-by-mail exclusively.