U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz claimed victory over challenger U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa after a postponed primary was held for two Puna precincts on Friday.
Schatz received a total of 115,397 votes statewide in the Senate Democratic primary. Hanabusa received 113,628 votes in the final count.
The tally included about 800 ballots from Maui that were not transmitted to the state immediately following the Aug. 9 primary.
The winner of the General Election in November would finish the rest of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye’s term.
In a statement, Schatz called the foul up on Maui “appalling and outrageous.”
Throughout the day, the Senate candidates and their sign-waving supporters flanked both sides of Keonepoko Elementary School, where the postponed primary was held.
The primary for precincts 04-02, mainly covering Hawaiian Beaches and Hawaiian Shores, and 04-01, covering Hawaiian Paradise Park, came a week after the area was devastated by Tropical Storm Iselle, which left many desperate for ice, drinking water and other basic necessities. The polling places for both were closed during the state’s Aug. 9 primary because of storm damage.
Earlier this week, Hanabusa sought to postpone the primary further, but 3rd Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura said he couldn’t delay an election in progress, though he shared many of the same concerns regarding the timing following the storm.
She said Friday while sign waving that legal challenges from either campaign would be justified given the impacts from the storm, which appeared to lower voter turnout at other polling places that were kept open, and a temporary delay at the polling site.
“We have to reassess and our legal team is doing it,” Hanabusa said, when asked if her campaign is preparing any further legal action.
“Right now, I’m here asking for people to vote and of course vote for me. That’s something we will have to analyze later.”
Election officials consolidated voting for those precincts at the school Friday, and voters were separated into lines based on their precinct.
HPP voters outnumbered those from the other precinct nearly 2-1, which prompted election officials to double the number of electronic voting machines for its line by transporting eight more from Hilo.
Around the time those machines were being set up, a power surge put the others offline, according to County Clerk Stewart Maeda.
An election troubleshooter said that delayed voting by 15 to 20 minutes, though Theresa Divinski of Hawaiian Paradise Park said she didn’t see the line move for much longer.
At the time, the line for precinct 04-01 reached 125 people, according to one observer, and election workers said they saw about three people leave as a result.
But Divinski said the delay didn’t dampen her resolve to vote and noted the vast majority of people weren’t deterred.
“This just shows that the process is important to the people who live in this part of the world,” she said.
The delay caused by the power surge only added to the frustration of some.
“We’re so exhausted,” said Diana Radich. “To have it be so disorganized, it’s so sad.”
Maeda said only electronic voting machines were used since a scanning machine that determines if paper ballots are properly filled out wasn’t available for precinct 04-01 ballots.
Maeda said the machine set up for that precinct’s ballot was still at the HPP Community Center, the precinct’s initial polling place, for much of the week since power lines blocked the entrance to the locked facility.
“In the short time we had to prepare … using electronic machines would be the surest way we would end up and running this morning,” he said.
The decision by the state Office of Elections to close only the two precincts Aug. 9 has been criticized by Hanabusa and others who say it disenfranchised voters in other precincts who couldn’t make it to the polls because of the storm damage.
Sheryl Fletcher of Kapoho said she was one of those voters who couldn’t make it last week, and showed up to try to vote at the school Friday even though she lives in another precinct.
“I was told I could try,” she said. “They said my vote may not be counted.”
“It’s an important election,” added Fletcher, referring to the Senate Democratic primary race.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.