Storm-tossed Hawaii Island heads to the polls
Today is Election Day, and state and county officials were determined late Friday to continue as planned, despite lingering uncertainties in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Iselle and the potential for Hurricane Julio to be close to the islands by Sunday.
Polls are scheduled to open at 7 a.m. and remain open until 6 p.m.
It’s an important primary. In this heavily Democratic state, voters will choose between an incumbent governor and come-from-behind challenger, and decide which of two prominent Democrats, including a gubernatorial appointee, should serve in the U.S. Senate. Hawaii County voters will also decide the makeup of the nonpartisan County Council.
The state Office of Elections announced in a news release late Friday that two Hawaii County polling places — Hawaii Paradise Community Center (04-01) and Keonepoko Elementary School (04-02) — will not be open. Instead, voters there will be required to vote by absentee ballot, with their results added later.
Election officials don’t anticipate enough voters in those two precincts to make a difference in statewide elections. But with two of only four precincts closed, it could have a huge impact on the District 4 County Council race.
State and county election officials were unavailable to speak about the local elections as of press time Friday.
Incumbent Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan, who’s defending his seat against three challengers, including former Councilwoman Emily Naeole, said the safety of constituents is his top concern.
Ilagan said he’d been out with a chainsaw all day, removing downed albizia trees from constituents’ homes and vehicles. He said the two precincts account for 4,345 voters.
“Right now, the Elections Office is going to make their own decisions,” Ilagan said.
The state is operating under an emergency proclamation through Aug. 15 that Abercrombie signed Wednesday. The proclamation gives Abercrombie broad powers to override laws and ordinances and use government facilities.
State law covering natural disasters also gives officials the authority to consolidate precincts, require voters to vote absentee and even postpone an election in the affected precinct up to 21 days, if it doesn’t affect the conduct of the election for those not affected.
With some facilities serving double duty as polling places and hurricane shelters, there were initially some concerns about how to handle the overlap. The concern was exacerbated by reports of power outages still ongoing late Friday in some communities.
Some 15,000 customers, primarily in lower Puna, were still without electricity about 5 p.m. Friday, according to Hawaii Electric Light Co. In particular, there was extensive damage to lines in the lower Puna area and restoration could take “some time,” HELCO said in a statement.
But state Elections Office spokesman Rex Quidilla said the facilities that would be used as polling places had an area where people could vote separate from anyone using the shelters.
“We are working in consultation with the county clerk and Civil Defense,” Quidilla said.
Hawaii County Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto had assured Stephens Media before the storm hit Thursday night that there are sufficient emergency generators on standby for all 41 polling places and the counting center.
“My understanding is, if all 41 need generators, we will be able to get them there,” Nakamoto said at the time.
The state Elections Office said in a news release that it will continue to monitor the situation through today, and adjust hours if needed. Gov. Neil Abercrombie in 2012 did extend voting hours 90 minutes on Hawaii Island by official proclamation because of late poll openings.
“Any decisions to deviate from the original election plans will be made based on the latest storm information and in further consultation with the county clerks, emergency management officials and the Attorney General,” the state Office of Elections said in an earlier statement.
The Hawaii Red Cross announced Friday afternoon the closing of all but two of the 11 emergency shelters that had been open on Hawaii Island. The two shelters still remaining open as of late Friday — Keaau High School and Ka‘u High School — are also polling places.
“We’ve established with the principals of the schools, (Department of Education) and Red Cross that any of the sites that are used for shelters that are also voting places, we have the ability to separate the two services so that voting can take place, even if it’s used as a shelter site. So those arrangements have been made even prior to opening the shelters,” said Hawaii County Civil Defense Darryl Oliveira.
It’s expected that more than half of those who plan to vote will have already voted early. Just under 20 percent of registered voters went to the precinct on Election Day for the 2012 primary, compared to 23 percent who voted by mail or at early walk-in sites.
State and county officials, party leaders and candidates have especially been pushing people to vote early this year, amid voter uncertainty as the storms loomed. Early voting ended Thursday.
In Hawaii County, 103,794 voters are registered for the primary. As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, the most current figures available, the county had received 14,540 mail ballots and 4,209 ballots from walk-in voting.
Nakamoto did not respond Friday to a telephone message left at her office or an emailed request for updated numbers.
Attorney General David Louie said the state did not anticipate any problems.
“They have to open up their roads before the shelters can be cleared. They’ll continue to look at that and make sure that they’re able to bring in their polling equipment,” Louie told The Associated Press on Friday.
Stephens Media reporter John Burnett contributed to this report.