Fewer voters are heading to the polls, but that doesn’t mean they are not casting a ballot.
In the 2012 general election, 22,245 ballots counted in Hawaii County were sent by mail. That accounted for 35 percent of all ballots cast, up from 18 percent in 2010 and 16 percent in 2008.
At 40 percent, the 2012 primary saw an even higher percentage of ballots being cast by mail, though the total number was lower at 17,312.
The 2012 election also appears to be the first time mail ballots (referred to as permanent absentee) exceeded numbers for absentee walk-in voters, who vote at designated polling places prior to the election date.
That election saw 5,773 absentee walk-in ballots during the primary and 9,502 during the general.
Combined with mail ballots, they account for just over 50 percent of all ballots cast in the primary and general election that year.
The 2012 elections also saw a drop in early walk-in voting, even with a higher voter turnout.
In 2010, there were 8,870 early walk-in ballots cast in the primary and 10,253 in the general.
The increase use of mail ballots may be due to the county’s push for that option in 2012. That year, the county mailed 80,383 permanent absentee applications to voters.
Of those, approximately 15,386 completed applications were returned, according to the elections division.
In comparison, 2010 saw 6,294 permanent absentee requests processed.
While more voters are using mail ballots, Pat Nakamoto, county election program administrator, noted it doesn’t appear to be increasing voter turnout.
She also said “it’s hard to say” if the trend toward absentee voting will continue.
Applications for permanent absentee ballots must be received by the county no later than 4:30 p.m. Aug. 2., according to the state Office of Elections.
Voters remain on the permanent absentee list unless they fail to return a ballot by 6 p.m. election day in either the primary or general election, register to vote elsewhere, or don’t keep registration information updated.
Permanent absentee applications are available at county clerk’s offices, U.S. Post Offices, and all public libraries and state agencies. They can also be downloaded from http://www.hawaiicounty.gov/elections-voter-registration.
The county has four walk-in voting locations this year: Pahala Community Center, Hawaii County Aupuni Center in Hilo, West Hawaii Civic Center, and Waimea Community Center.
Early walk-in voting begins July 28 and ends Aug. 7.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.