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Judge clears way for voting today

Updated: 
August 15, 2014 - 5:55am

A judge has denied U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s request to delay a makeup election today in two Puna precincts where the polls were closed in Saturday’s primary election because of damage from Tropical Storm Iselle.

The ruling Thursday by 3rd Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura paved the way for the two-precinct election to be held at Keonepoko Elementary School in Hawaiian Beaches subdivision. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Results of that election are expected to be announced tonight.

Nakamura said if a poll was taken right now, it would indicate “some lack of common sense to hold the election tomorrow in light of the natural disaster caused by Iselle and people are trying to recover from the property damage caused by storm conditions, the lack of ability to freely move about, the lack of electrical power and difficulties in regard to obtaining food and water.”

“There are concerns regarding the adequacy of notice of the election and ability to vote tomorrow,” he said. “Also, there would be a concern regarding the legitimacy of the election if it is held tomorrow. If held tomorrow, likely a post-election challenge is invited, and likely there will be a perception made — or there’d be a public perception — that the election was not fair.

“And frankly, holding the election tomorrow shows some insensitivity to the plight of people in Puna.”

The judge added, however, “the court is not supposed to interfere with an ongoing election process, even if it is unconstitutional.” Nakamura said he’s “constrained not to grant injunctive relief.”

Hanabusa, who trails U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz by 1,635 votes in the Democratic primary for the seat once held by the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, filed for a temporary restraining order in an attempt to stop the makeup election. There are 6,281 registered voters in the two precincts who had not voted absentee or at walk-in sites prior to Saturday.

“We are extremely disappointed for the people of Puna, especially since Judge Nakamura said that holding this election (today) lacks ‘common sense’ and ‘shows some insensitivity to the plight of people in Puna.’ The judge decided that they did not deserve more time to focus on recovering from the effects of the storm,” Hanabusa’s campaign manager, Peter Boylan, said in a written statement.

“We will continue to distribute food, water, fruit and ice to those in need, but we need people to be aware that there is an election (today),” Boylan said. “We are canvassing the precincts and will provide rides to anyone who needs a lift to Keonepoko Elementary School. This campaign is not over, and we will continue to work very hard to earn every vote.”

Schatz’s campaign also issued a statement after the ruling.

“Senator Schatz continues to focus his energies on helping the people of Puna to recover, and that’s what he will do on an ongoing basis. His commitment to recovery in Puna extends beyond the election,” campaign manager Clay Schroers said.

Hanabusa’s attorney, Richard Wurdeman, argued during the court hearing that state Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago had “no legal authority” to call for an election today. He called Nago’s action “repugnant to the constitutional rights of the voters of those two precincts” and said the only way to ensure those registered to vote have a chance to do so would be to mail or hand out absentee ballots to all eligible voters.

After the hearing, Wurdeman said the remaining Puna voters are being denied their “fundamental right to vote, that cornerstone of our democracy.”

Deputy Attorney General John Molay, who represented Nago, said afterwards the state is pleased with the judge’s ruling.

“We are happy the election will go forward (today) as we believe would be appropriate,” he said.

Molay said Hanabusa, who is registered to vote on Oahu, doesn’t have the right to speak for voters in Puna.

“No one appointed her to be their spokesperson,” he said.

Neither Hanabusa nor Nago was at the hearing.

In addition to the hotly contested senate primary, state Rep. Faye Hanohano trails attorney Joy San Buenaventura 558 votes to 260 in a primary for the House District 4 seat representing Hawaiian Acres, Pahoa and Kalapana. And in the County Council District 4 race, incumbent Greggor Ilagan appears to be headed for a runoff in November with challenger Roy Lozano. Ilagan has 346 votes to Lozano’s 234. Former councilwoman Emily Naeole is in third place with 171 votes.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.