Election Day has been turned on its ear. Instead of casting ballots on a single day, Hawaii residents have several weeks to pick candidates of their liking thanks to absentee and walk-in voting.
"Now, instead of you getting to like my candidate on one day, you have to like them for a whole month," said HPU professor John Hart, chair of the school's Department of Communication.
Statistics over the past three election cycles show the clear growth in the popularity of early voting in Hawaii.
In the 2008 primary, 14.2 percent of ballots cast statewide were absentee. That grew to 19 percent in 2010, and 20.7 percent in 2012. Similar growth was seen during the past three general elections, except turnout was much heavier in 2008 because of the presidential candidacy of Hawaii-born Barack Obama.
"Absentee mail voting has been growing by roughly 10 percent each election year," explains Honolulu elections administrator Glen Takahashi. "In fact, our first batch of absentee mail ballots that is going out will be about 100,000 pieces. If you look at any given primary election, there might be 200,000 persons voting on the island of Oahu. That's roughly half of the voters."
All four counties will begin mailing absentee ballots about 20 days before the Aug. 9 primary. Meanwhile, walk-in voting begins July 28 and runs through Aug. 7. The extended voting period means candidates must maintain TV and radio ads for weeks, while also sustaining their phone-banking and "get out the vote" efforts.
According to Hart, that's a major concern for those who worry about the amount of money flowing into political campaigns, especially from political action committees that may be far removed from local issues.
"It doesn't only bring more money in, it requires more money because instead of having one-week saturation, you know need one-month saturation," said Hart. "On one hand, you want to make it easier for people to vote. On the other hand, when you make campaigns more expensive, it limits the marketplace of ideas."
But for those seeking political office, early voting could provide some benefits. That's especially true for top-tier candidates that unexpectedly falter on the campaign trail.
"If 20 percent of the population has voted and I slip up, that 20 percent has already given me their vote," said Hart.
Polling of all four county clerks Thursday showed about 147,000 voters have registered for absentee ballots across the state. That number is expected to grow as the Aug. 2 deadline to register for an absentee ballot draws closer.
Hart believes problems during the 2012 general election will spur even more of a surge in early voting. Some precincts, especially in East Oahu, ran out of ballots and were forced to turn away voters.
"I can see the average voter saying, 'Why stand in line? Why risk running out of ballots? I will vote at my convenience,'" Hart said.
Once absentee ballots begin arriving at Honolulu's Elections Division, a new $300,000 machine will allow officials to scan signatures and other information on absentee ballots at a rate of 20,000 per hour. The machine will also add another layer of security to early voting.
"By reducing the handling of the vote-by-mail envelopes, it improves the security," said Takahashi. "In the past we would have staff individually handling each envelope."