HILO, HAWAII — The state primary election will conclude Friday as planned, a Hawaii court ruled Thursday
Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura in Hilo rejected a motion to postpone the election from U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who trails U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz by 1,635 votes out of roughly 230,000 ballots cast in last Saturday’s Democratic primary.
In her motion, Hanabusa said the Puna voting should be delayed until power is restored, roadblocks are removed and proper notification is given to voters in the two affected precincts that couldn’t vote last Saturday due to Tropical Storm Iselle.
Nakamura said while the situation may seem unfair, there’s no legal justification to delay the election.
Hollyn Johnson-Hawaii Tribune Hearald/Pool
“You could take a popular poll now and the poll would indicate that there’s some lack of common sense to hold the election tomorrow in light of the natural disaster caused by Iselle,” Nakamura said.
He added that he expects there to a post-election challenge from whoever loses in the end. In all likelihood, that challenge will come from Hanabusa.
The congresswoman did not attend Thursday’s hearing, although her spokesman, Peter Boylan, was in the audience. Boylan did not want to comment after Nakamura’s ruling.
However, Boylan later released this statement: “We are extremely disappointed for the people of Puna, especially since Judge Nakamura said that holding this election tomorrow lacks ‘common sense’ and ‘shows some insensitivity to the plight of people in Puna.’ The judge decided that they did not deserve more time to focus on recovering from the effects of the storm.”
Boylan continued: “We will continue to distribute food, water, fruit and ice to those in need but we need people to be aware that there is an election tomorrow. We are canvassing the precincts and will provide rides to anyone who needs a lift to Keonepoko Elementary School. This campaign is not over and we will continue to work very hard to earn every vote.”
“We need finality to this election. The entire state election is being held up by this.” — Deputy Attorney General John Molay
In a statement, Schatz campaign manager Clay Schroers said, “Senator Schatz continues to focus his energies on helping the people of Puna to recover, and that’s what he will do on an ongoing basis. His commitment to recovery in Puna extends beyond the election.”
Hanabusa’s attorney, Richard N. Wurdeman, argued that the election should be postponed because of decisions made by Hawaii’s chief election officer, Scott Nago.
The Hawaii Elections Office initially planned to send ballots to all registered voters in two Puna precincts that were shut down on Election Day due to Iselle.
Nago changed the plan later in the week to allow voters to cast their ballots in person at an elementary school within the district.
Wurdeman argued that Nago broke the law by consolidating two polling places into one and by not sending out absentee ballots to every registered voter.
“What this case is really about is fairness,” Wurdeman said. “It is fairness in a sense that there are thousands of Puna residents still struggling to recover from the devastation of a major tropical storm.”
Nago was represented by Deputy Attorney General John Molay, who argued that what the Elections Office decided was well within the law. He also questioned whether Hanabusa even had standing in the case, since she is not a voter in either of the affected precincts.
Richard Wurdeman, left, and Hanabusa campaign spokesman Peter Boylan leave the courtroom after learning Friday’s election will go on as planned.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
“We need finality to this election,” Molay said. “The entire state election is being held up by this.”
Molay reiterated the state’s stance on Friday’s election after Nakamura ruled in his favor, although he refused to comment on the matter of fairness.
“We believe that (Hanabusa) did not have the right to speak on behalf of the voters of the Puna district,” Molay said. “No one appointed her to be their spokesperson.”
Wurdeman was frustrated with Nakamura’s ruling, saying after the hearing that it violated Puna residents’ fundamental right to vote.
He also said there’s no appeal planned at this point, and that any talk of a post-election challenge would be premature.
“This campaign is not over and we will continue to work very hard to earn every vote.” — Hanabusa campaign spokesman Peter Boylan
“To the extent that the people of Puna are able to vote tomorrow I hope they’ll make that attempt,” Wurdeman said. “But we certainly understand the difficulties that they’re experiencing right now.”
Friday’s polling location is at Keoneopoko Elementary School. Only voters assigned to Hawaiian Paradise Community Center (Precinct 04-01) and Keonepoko Elementary School (Precinct 04-02), who did not previously vote by absentee mail ballot or at an early vote site, will be allowed to vote.
Polling place hours will be from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, but voters still in line at 6 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
Election officials will also be accepting absentee ballots from voters who were unable to drop off their ballots during the Aug. 9 primary.