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Closed polling places create confusion in Puna

August 10, 2014 - 12:05am

The closure of two Puna polling places because of damage from Tropical Storm Iselle caused some confusion Saturday as affected voters tried to cast ballots at Pahoa High School instead but were turned away.

Election officials announced Friday the polls at the Hawaiian Paradise Park Community Center and Keonepoko Elementary School would be closed because of downed trees on roadways. Voters in the two affected precincts, which include about 8,000 registered voters, are expected to receive mail absentee ballots.

An election volunteer working at the polling place at Pahoa High School said between 50 and 60 voters from the affected precincts tried to vote there. Some were “irate” they couldn’t cast their ballots at that precinct, he said.

“We have to tell them we have no place for you to vote, and a lot of them were upset,” said the volunteer, who requested to not be identified.

County Clerk Stewart Maeda said he received some complaints but noted the state and county did the best they could to notify voters in the storm-ravaged areas.

He said he will speak with state election officials Monday to work out a plan for mailing ballots to the affected voters who did not vote absentee already.

“We want to get that going as soon as possible,” Maeda said.

Law requires the voting process to be complete 21 days after the primary election.

Maeda said the state chose to not consolidate polling places since many voters might not have been able to make it anyway because of the storm damage.

As a result of the storm, he said the county had a few election volunteers who couldn’t make it, but he added it didn’t affect operations.

Voting at Pahoa High School was slow but steady, according to election workers. Many residents in that precinct, which includes lower Puna, were still without power and their focus appeared to be on getting supplies, including water and ice.

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