U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to postpone the Friday makeup election for two Puna precincts.
The election could decide the U.S. Senate Democratic primary, in which she is trailing Sen. Brian Schatz by 1,635 votes, and two Big Island races.
The lawsuit will be heard by 3rd Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura at 10:30 a.m. today in Hilo. It argues voting in precincts 04-01 and 04-02 is scheduled too soon since the recovery from Tropical Storm Iselle continues.
Damage from the storm, which caused extensive road closures and power outages in Puna, prompted the state Office of Elections to close polling places at Hawaiian Paradise Park Community Center and Keonepoko Elementary School during Saturday’s primary election.
That left 6,821 registered voters in the two precincts who had not voted absentee or at walk-in sites unable to vote on Election Day.
Voting for the two precincts, considered a postponed primary, is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the elementary school, 15-890 Kahakai Boulevard.
Hanabusa said voting should be further postponed because of power outages and blocked roads.
“I’ve spent the last four days traveling in Puna talking with people, listening to their stories of destruction and damage and seeing first hand the magnitude of the devastation they have suffered,” she said in a statement. “It is completely unrealistic to think people struggling to find basic necessities or get out of their homes will have the ability to go to the polls this week.”
Hanabusa raised the same issues in a letter to Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago on Tuesday.
Hawaii County Public Works Director Warren Lee said Tuesday homes are accessible in the subdivisions.
“Side streets … may not be a complete through street,” he said. “But they can go around it. As far as I know, no one is blocked from leaving their home.”
Lee expected the bulk of clearing work to be done this week.
An estimated 6,600 customers, mainly in Puna, were without power Wednesday, according to Hawaii Electric Light Co.
HELCO said power was restored in Hamakua, Ainaloa, Orchidland Estates and portions of upper Puna, Hawaiian Beaches and Hawaiian Paradise Park. HPP and Hawaiian Beaches are both within the two precincts scheduled to vote Friday.
A spokeswoman for Schatz, who has largely remained out of the media spotlight while visiting Puna, said his priority remains getting residents “back on their feet.”
“The Office of Elections or the courts will determine the best way to move forward to maximize voter participation,” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “Senator Schatz believes that the voters in Puna and across Hawaii must be given fair access to voting, and the senator’s campaign will be committed and respectful whenever the election is held.”
Both candidates arrived Sunday to meet with residents and help distribute supplies.
Elections spokesman Rex Quidilla said letters notifying voters of the Friday election were mailed Tuesday.
Quidilla said he could not comment on the lawsuit or if he was concerned voters might get conflicting information regarding the postponed primary.
“We’re moving ahead to provide election services on Friday,” he said.
HPP Neighborhood Association board member June Conant said she didn’t think many residents will see the letter in time since they rely on “cluster boxes” and post office boxes rather than at-home delivery.
“I only pick mine up every two to three days,” she said. “If I’m not expecting something, I won’t make a special trip.”
Conant estimated about a third of the subdivision has power.
To help notify voters, Hawaii County posted large banners in HPP, Hawaiian Beaches and lower Puna announcing the Friday primary.
Pat Nakamoto, county election division administrator, said about 4,000 fliers will be sent to area schools today notifying residents of the election date and shuttle service to the polling place. Students will be asked to take the fliers home with them, she said.
Nakamoto said election workers are ready for Friday.
“Things had been prepared for these two polling places in advance” of the primary, she said. “We will just continue that process … for Friday.”
Ballots will be counted at the counting center in the State Building in Hilo, with the data transmitted to the state elections office, according to election officials.
Quidilla said he wasn’t aware of the state office sending workers over from Oahu.
Nakamoto said there will be 13 volunteers working Friday and three election observers at the counting center. She said the Democratic Party also has approached her office about being poll watchers.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.