HONOLULU — The Hawaii Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit seeking to allow voters on the storm-damaged Big Island to vote.
The court said in an opinion released Thursday that it didn’t have jurisdiction to grant the relief sought by the American Civil Liberties Union with the lawsuit.
The ACLU had asked the court to allow voters who couldn’t make it to the polls on Election Day to cast ballots. They said voters in the Puna region were disenfranchised because they were blocked into their communities by fallen trees and downed power lines caused by Tropical Storm Iselle.
“While our clients are disappointed that they will not be able to cast ballots in the primary election, the ACLU will continue its work to ensure that every person has an equal opportunity to vote — even when a natural disaster strikes — and we look forward to working with the Legislature to prevent these kinds of situations in the future,” ACLU spokeswoman Kit Grant said in a statement.
The storm hit Hawaii Island the day before polls opened. Two precincts in the Puna region were closed, and voters were told they would be mailed ballots, and then later told there would be a walk-in election a week later.
But some residents of neighboring districts where the polls remained open were upset that they too weren’t getting a second chance to vote, because they had been unable to make it to the polls.
“I’m very disappointed,” said state Sen. Russell Ruderman, who represents the Puna district. “That was our last hope for some remedy to this botched election. It’s very unfair to the people of Puna and our constitutional right to vote.”
David Tarnas, Hawaii County Chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, said he was disappointed, but he understood the legal basis for the judges’ denial.
“I hope that this is a learning opportunity for the elections office to do things differently in the future to increase the opportunity for people to vote instead of making it more of a challenge,” Tarnas said.
The court also dismissed a separate complaint from a group of Big Island voters who disputed the election, saying they were not the proper parties to challenge the outcome, and that they had failed to demonstrate errors or problems that would have changed the results.
Former Maui mayoral candidate Nelson Waikiki Jr. also had his complaint dismissed from court Thursday. He had been arrested outside a candidate forum in July after violating conditions of his parole in a securities fraud case. Waikiki claimed that the election had been marred by “possible conspiracy and corruption by public officials” and had requested a recount. The court said Waikiki also failed to demonstrate specific mistakes or errors that could have changed the outcome of the election.