Editor’s Note: Frederic “Ric” Wirick is a Kea’au resident running for the Hawaii County Council District 5 seat.

The State Office of Elections and the Hawaii County Elections Division recently sent a letter and a Hawaii Absentee (ballot) Application to all registered voters in precincts 04-03 and 04-04 in response to the lava situation in Puna stating, “you received this letter as your polling place may not be available on election day.”

However, Scott Nago, Chief Election Officer had announced prior that Pahoa Community Center (precinct 04-03) and Pahoa High/Intermediate (precinct 04-04) will not be open on election day.

Closing these two voting locations has effectively made absentee voting mandatory, yet the letter sent to the voters appears to be voluntary. Pahoa Community Center (precinct 04-03) being unavailable for voting, due to it currently being an evacuee center, was a reasonable decision. But, also closing Pahoa High/Intermediate (precinct 04-04) was not necessary.

Support for Puna sign hangs from Pahoa High/Intermediate School on June 7. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

A more reasoned choice should have been to consolidate both districts at Pahoa High/Intermediate which could easily sustain the traffic of both districts.

The actions of the State Office of Elections has essentially required all the approximately 6,000 registered voters in these two combined districts to re-register by having to request absentee ballots. Under the current circumstances this is an undue burden upon the voters for the following reasons:

  • Persons directly affected by the lava have more than enough to deal with right now;
  • Evacuees are scattered far and wide in various situations, some are at the shelters, some are in nomadic camping situations, some are couch-surfing, some are in temporary housing;
  • Evacuees whom had a mailing address no longer have that luxury and most likely are now on U.S. Postal Service “General Delivery” status;
  • Since a large portion of the these two precincts never qualified for USPS mail delivery, nor have an available P.O. Box, they are also on General Delivery;
  • USPS only holds General Delivery mail for 10 days;
  • Mailing in the required Hawaii Absentee (ballot) Application will require those on General Delivery to go their Post Office to mail their application, return to the Post Office (potentially more than once as some locations have very limited hours), wait in a long line, receive their mail-in ballots, fill them out, return to the Post Office and mail their ballots;
  • This onerous process could likely disenfranchise a significant number of already registered voters and cause them to lose their right to vote.

As a Hawaii County Council candidate for District 5, I have been approached by many voters regarding this confusion. Most are not aware that if they want to continue to vote it is absolutely mandatory they apply to vote by mail-in ballot only.

Others have asked, and I don’t yet have the answer, if they are temporarily relocated to another district which district are they allowed to legally vote in?

In a preemptive effort to not disenfranchise the voters in Precincts 04-03 and 04-04 the Hawaii County Elections Division is planning on doing outreach to the few hundred voters at the evacuation shelters.

But what about the other thousands of voters? What will be done to assist them to sustain their right to vote?

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