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An answer to the question “Who won Hawaii’s U.S. Senate race?” is likely to come Friday, according the State Elections Office.
The plan is to run an election at Keonepoko Elementary School for the two Puna precincts on the Big Island that were closed because of Tropical Storm Iselle.
The results would be announced the same evening as the election.
“I don’t think it would take that long with just two precincts,” said Office of Elections spokesman Rex Quidilla.
Friday is a state holiday — Statehood Day. The polling hours will be 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, the incumbent, is in a nail-biter with U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa for the seat left empty with the death of Dan Inoye in December 2012. Both candidates are in Puna campaigning and offering humanitarian aid to those still in need of help after Tropical Storm Iselle swept through last week.
Chief Election Officer Scott Nago made the decision after consultation with the Hawaii Attorney General, Department of Defense and the Office of the County Clerk.
“Only voters who are assigned to Hawaiian Paradise Community Center (04-01) and Keoneopoko Elementary School (04-02), who did not previously vote by absentee mail ballot or at an early vote site will be allowed to vote,” according to the Elections Office.
There are 8,255 registered voters in the two precincts. Quidilla said he did not know how many had previously mailed in absentee ballots.
The Elections Office initially considered mailing out ballots to the voters affected by the precinct closures. More than 23 percent of Big Island voters voted absentee.
State and county officials have been working to restore order in Puna, a rural district near Hilo
Hawaii law does not allow for automatic election recounts. But complaints can be filed in court.
Except for the two precincts, which are in Puna’s District 4, Saturday’s primary appears to have gone smoothly.
Besides the Senate race, the closed precincts also mean that the District 4 House of Representatives race could not be called, either. Rep. Faye Hanohano trails attorney Joy San Buenaventura 558 votes to 260 with three other Democrats farther behind.
The storm may have hurt turnout, however, which is likely to be at a near all-time low of 41 percent statewide. It was even lower in Hawaii County — 38 percent — a figure that may change with the additional round of voting this week.
Under state law, an election can be postponed “in the event of a flood, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, high wind, or other natural disaster, occurring prior to an election, that makes a precinct inaccessible, the chief election officer or county clerk in the case of county elections may consolidate precincts within a representative district.”
If the precincts are inaccessible, the chief election officer or county clerk can require the affected voters to vote by absentee ballot.
In either case, it has to be done within 21 says, which means the latest the results would be announced would appear to be Aug. 30, the start of the three-day Labor Day weekend.
Hawaii law does not provide for an automatic recount of an election, no matter how close the finish. (State law does have procedures for addressing a tie, however.)
But “any candidate, or qualified political party directly interested, or any thirty voters of any election district” can file a complaint in the Hawaii Supreme Court. The complaint would have to provide cause “such as but not limited to, provable fraud, overages, or underages, that could cause a difference in the election results.”
The law adds, “The complaint shall also set forth any reasons for reversing, correcting, or changing the decisions of the precinct officials or the officials at a counting center in an election using the electronic voting system.”
On Monday, Politico reported that Hanabusa warned of voting “irregularities” in precincts crippled by Tropical Hurricane Iselle, which hit the Big Island on Thursday, about 36 hours before polls opened on primary election day.
Hanabusa’s campaign spokesman, Peter Boylan, told Civil Beat on Monday, “We are currently reviewing all legal options at this time because of this too-close-to-call outcome.”
Later Monday, Boylan issued a statement expressing the campaign’s dismay that the state had decided to hold the election on Friday when conditions could still be dicey.
“It is disappointing that the State Office of Elections reversed course and decided to hold walk in voting on Friday,” the statement said. “A lot of voters in those two precincts are without power and water and many of the roads are blocked with debris, isolating large pockets of the community. It is unrealistic to think people struggling to find basic necessities and get out of their homes will have the ability to go to the polls Friday. There is very limited electricity and phone service in some of these areas and it is unclear how the state will notify people that there will be a vote.
A call to Schatz campaign spokeswoman Meaghan Smith was not immediately returned Monday.
Schatz leads Hanabusa by a scant 1,635 votes out of the more than 225,000 votes cast for the two candidates, or less than one percent of the vote
There is some question as to how much voters in Puna are even paying attention to the news. With electricity out in some on the Big Island place and phone and Internet access perhaps spotty, some may not have heard that their district will determine who Hawaii’s U.S. senator will be.
That said, the election may take on more importance, knowing that the fate of a U.S. Senate seat depends on these voters. Certainly, Puna is very important to Hanabusa and Schatz, who are currently on the Big Island — ostensibly for humanitarian purposes, as both candidates expressed concern for the area at a Democratic Party breakfast Sunday in Honolulu.
On Monday, Hanabusa toured Puna by helicopter while Schatz was in Puna helping with relief supplies and delivering ice and food.
But both candidates have also said that they are not giving up the election fight.
Of note: The third Democrat on the ballot, Las Vegas entertainer Brian Evans (he has a home in Puna), managed to win 4,792 votes for his candidacy, effectively playing the role of Ralph Nader in Florida in the presidential race of 2000.
Another 3,781 voters didn’t bother to select a Democratic Senate contender while another 147 cast “over votes,” meaning their ballots were spoiled.