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Incumbent Brian Schatz clinched the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate as the Hawaii Elections Office released results of Friday’s late voting in storm-damaged Puna, plus 800 previously uncounted Maui ballots.
Schatz picked up 1,601 votes in results announced Friday, while U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa got 1,467. That gave him 48.5 percent of the vote to Hanabusa’s 47.8 percent. The total vote count as of Friday evening was 115,401 for Schatz to 113,632 for Hanabusa — a difference of just 1,769 votes.
“This has been an extraordinary week for all of us,” Schatz said as he greeted supporters after the results were announced. “This is an extraordinary night.”
Schatz thanked his supporters and also was effusive in his praise of people from all over the state who pitched in to help the storm victims in Puna and “to help our community recover.”
Hanabusa, speaking with her supporters after the results came in, said she had not yet considered her political future.
“I’m still a member of Congress, I still have my term to fill out,” she said.
Hanabusa lamented that many voters never got the chance to go to the polls due to the storm, including many in precincts where the election was held Aug. 9.
And on Friday, only voters registered in the two Puna precincts were allowed to vote. Others were turned away even if they hadn’t been able to vote last Saturday.
“I think that their stories were heart-wrenching and they could not understand why they could not vote,” Hanabusa said.
Schatz said he also was frustrated by voters not being able to vote on Friday and noted that a number of people came up and expressed their concerns to him personally.
The Maui ballots were discovered during a routine audit of the primary election results. The ballots were transmitted to the Elections Office on Aug. 9 but inadvertently not counted, according to spokesman Rex Quidilla.
Puna has been ground zero for overtime campaigning after last Saturday’s primary voting everywhere else in Hawaii left Schatz with a narrow lead of 1,635 votes.
The Elections Office delayed voting at two Puna precincts in the area hit hardest by Tropical Storm Iselle until Friday. And with some areas still waiting for power to be restored, Hanabusa filed suit to delay the vote further. A judge rejected her motion Thursday.
Whether that was the last of the legal challenges remains to be seen.
Neither of the candidates was happy about the uncounted Maui ballots. Hanabusa said she was “stunned,” while Schatz issued a statement calling the mistake “appalling and outrageous.”
“It is unacceptable that the Office of Elections failed to count these ballots on Maui, and the voters of Hawai‘i are entitled to an explanation of how this occurred,” the Schatz statement continued. “We need to understand what measures will be taken to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”
Randy Perreira, the head of the Hawaii Government Employees Association that is supporting Schatz, was also upset about how the election unfolded.
But it was the discovery of 800 ballots on Maui on Friday that made him question the integrity of the elections office.
“That’s inexcusable,” Perreira said. “That’s one mishap too many.”
Meanwhile, in his ruling denying Hanabusa’s motion to delay the Puna voting, Hilo Circuit Court Judge Gregg Nakamura said he expected there to be a post-election challenge from whoever loses, perhaps seeking a recount.
Under state law, “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.”
Hanabusa told Civil Beat that she still needs to evaluate a potential challenge. She’s clearly concerned about the voting problems caused by Iselle. The 800 ballots on Maui just added to her skepticism about the process.
“People, they’re not letting this go,” Hanabusa said as she waved at passing cars near the Puna polling place. “And every single one has used the word ‘disenfranchised.'”
Schatz and Hanabusa both flew to Puna on Sunday, shortly after it became clear the Senate primary would be decided there. For several days, they walked a fine line between campaigning and attempting to provide storm relief. They were the only high-level elected officials to visit until Thursday, when Gov. Neal Abercrombie toured the area, and Friday, when U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard arrived. Puna is part of Gabbard’s Second Congressional District.
Schatz is now the strong favorite to win the Nov. 4 general election against Republican nominee Cam Cavasso, a former state representative from Waimanalo. He ran for the Senate in 2010 and lost by 51 percentage points.
The winner in November will serve out the remaining two years of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye’s term, and some politicos think there could be a Schatz-Hanabusa rematch in 2016.
It’s been a long campaign for the Democratic nomination, and not just because Iselle unexpectedly extended it for six days. It started almost immediately after the death of Inouye on Dec. 17, 2012.
Hanabusa was upset about being passed over, and tried to use the slight to her advantage during the campaign.
Many of Inouye’s supporters backed Hanabusa in her bid to unseat Schatz, including the late senator’s widow and retired U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka.
But even with Inouye’s camp standing behind her, Hanabusa struggled to raise money and bring in endorsements.
Schatz outraised the congresswoman nearly 2-to-1 in campaign contributions, which allowed him to run a more sophisticated campaign and stay out front with advertising and other messaging.
He also received key endorsements from President Barack Obama and many of his Democratic colleagues, including U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader.
Schatz and Hanabusa struggled to differentiate themselves on the issues. Each is considered a liberal Democrat, and they tend to fall along party lines on all the major talking points.
This often left the campaigns arguing about the minutiae of particular congressional votes.
Social Security and Iraq became major talking points in the months leading up to the elections.
Schatz and Hanabusa accused each other of trying to cut entitlement programs for seniors, although both have strong views about protecting Social Security and Medicare.
Hanabusa, who most polls indicated was the underdog throughout the race, did her best to tie Schatz to Abercrombie, who was also struggling to connect with voters. Abercrombie lost his bid for re-election in last week’s primary balloting to state Sen. David Ige.
In particular, she attempted to link Schatz to the governor’s unpopular attempt to tax pensions, something the senator said he disagreed with.
Besides the U.S. Senate contest, Puna voters in the affected precincts also cast ballots in a state House of Representatives race and a Hawaii County Council seat.
In a major upset, Hilo attorney Joy San Buenaventura was defeating District 4 Rep. Faye Hanohano, 41 percent to 19 percent, in the Democratic primary.
Three other Democrats — Leilani Bronson-Crelly, Brian F. Jordan and Julia Peleiholani — trailed San Buenaventura and Hanohano.
Hanohano, a Native Hawaiian, has been a controversial figure at the Hawaii Legislature.
In 2013 she criticized the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts for not having enough artwork by Hawaiian artists.
Last year, Hanohano berated a white student and was reprimanded by House Speaker Joe Souki for her “intimidating” conduct toward a white male student who testified before her committee.
Hanohano has said she has been misunderstood and defended her views. But San Buenaventura told Civil Beat in February that she chose to challenge the incumbent because Hanohano was no longer an effective representative for Puna.
San Buenaventura now faces Republican Gary Thomas in the general election.
In Hawaii County Council District 4, which covers the Puna Makai area, incumbent Greggor Ilagan, with 52 percent of the vote, led three other challengers: Roy Lozano, former Councilwoman Emily Naeole and Madie Greene.
Council races are nonpartisan. If a candidate receives less than 50 percent of the votes, the top two face off during the general election.
On Maui, the 800 lost ballots, once counted, did not change any results there. District 9 state Rep. Justin Woodson had been ahead of Democratic challenger James Apana by about 300 votes. He led with 52 percent to Apana’s 44 percent.
See the election results: