U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii is asking a court on the Big Island to delay a makeup election for nearly 7,000 voters, saying they should have more time to recover from Tropical Storm Iselle before casting ballots in a primary that includes her run for U.S. Senate.
Hanabusa filed a request for a temporary restraining order Wednesday in a state circuit court in Hilo.
The complaint asks Judge Greg Nakamura to stop Chief Election Officer Scott Nago from holding a postponed election for two Puna precincts on Friday. Currently, Hanabusa trails Sen. Brian Schatz by 1,635 votes.
In the motion, attorneys for Hanabusa state that "This court has the power and duty to act to prevent the disenfranchisement of voters in Hawaii" and "Postponing the election will ensure that the core rights in this democracy are safeguarded."
State elections officials plan to allow up to 6,778 registered voters to cast ballots at Keonepoko Elementary School from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Friday, with results to be announced later that evening. Anyone in line at 6 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
Hanabusa is challenging Schatz in a Democratic primary that has captured the attention of the entire state and political observers on the mainland.
Meaghan Smith, a spokeswoman with the Schatz campaign, had the following statement Wednesday:
"Senator Schatz continues to focus on helping Puna recover. The Office of Elections or the courts will determine the best way to move forward to maximize voter participation. Senator Schatz believes that the voters in Puna and across Hawaii must be given fair access to voting and the Senator's campaign will be committed and respectful whenever the election is held. The Senator's priority is to help the people of Puna get back on their feet."
Under Hawaii law, the Office of Elections has 21 days from the Aug. 9 primary to conduct balloting for the two missing precincts in Puna.
Hanabusa's campaign manager John Salsbury told KITV4 it would make sense to postpone the election with more than 6,600 Hawaiian Electric Light customers still without power and many subdivisions, in particular those in Puna, still devastated.
"I'm not going to speak for her, but in general I think that if the state is afforded 21 days to postpone an election, that there's absolutely no need to rush an election with too little time and too few methods to notify the voters in those precincts," said Salsbury. "They're still trying to get their homes and lives together."
Likely joining Hanabusa in her TRO request is state Rep. Faye Hanohano of Puna, who currently trails fellow Democrat Joy Sanbuenaventura by 298 votes.
"It's just not a fair process," Hanohano said Tuesday by phone. "You know people are being denied their right to vote and that's really the issue."
The U.S. Postal Service said it mailed 5,700 letters from the Office of Elections to Puna residents on Tuesday, informing them of the upcoming vote this Friday. Spokesman Duke Gonzales said the Postal Service is helping to expedite delivery of those letters to areas impacted by the storm by notifying mail carriers of their existence.
Meanwhile, if Judge Nakamura allows the election to proceed Friday as scheduled, KITV4 has learned all balloting will be done electronically. Elections Office spokesman Rex Quidilla said there will be no paper ballots available at Keonepoko Elementary, and 12 or more electronic voting machines will be available to residents.
Sen. Schatz was seen in Nanawale Estates on Monday handing out water bottles.
Hanabusa was also seen at the Makuu Farmers Market near Paradise Park on Tuesday.
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CORRECTION: New numbers released by Hawaii County Thursday states that 6,778 registered voters are eligible to take part in Friday's election. The original story pegged the number at 6,821