HAWAIIAN BEACHES, Hawaii >> U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said Tuesday that she is considering a legal challenge to block Friday’s vote in two Puna precincts that could decide her Democratic primary for Senate against U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.
Hanabusa said she would likely argue to delay the vote until residents who are still without power and water can recover from Tropical Storm Iselle. The congresswoman also said that voters in two other Puna precincts that did open on Saturday should also be allowed to vote if they could not get to the precincts because of blocked roads.
Hanabusa trails Schatz by 1,635 votes in the primary.
"We’re going to have to file something in court, because I feel that what’s going on is really disenfranchising a lot of people," said Hanabusa, who is still discussing her legal strategy with counsel.
"Senator Schatz is working to help Puna residents get back on their feet," Meaghan Smith, a spokeswoman for Schatz’s campaign, said in an email."The independent nonpartisan experts at the Office of Elections and the county clerk from Hawaii Island are in a far better position to evaluate how to proceed with this election than anyone else."
State Rep. Faye Hanohano, who represents the Puna region, also called for a delay in Friday’s vote. Hanohano is trailing attorney Joy San Buenaventura after early returns.
Pat Saiki, chairwoman of the Hawaii Republican Party, also put out a call to hold off on the election until residents "have a chance to gather themselves and be safe and secure before they consider voting."
Saiki, at a news conference Tuesday outside her Kahala home, called on the Office of Elections to delay the election until more residents are settled. She noted that the law gives the state up to 21 days to postpone the election, and officials should utilize as much of the alloted time as needed.
"I’m sure more people would feel more secure about their surroundings, get their electricty back in order before they can consider voting for something, anything, at all," she said.
"All I know is what I am concerned with and that’s the people of Puna," she added. "I’m concerned for them and I want them to recover from this devastation before we move any further on any other kind of activity, including voting."
Election officials have set the vote for two Puna precincts that could not open on Saturday because of storm damage for Friday at Keonepoko Elementary School. Results would be announced Friday evening.
David Tarnas, a former state lawmaker who is the chairman of Hawaii County Democrats, asked Stephanie Ohigashi, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, to file a complaint with the Office of Elections to delay the vote.
Tarnas told Ohigashi that many residents in Puna may not be aware of Friday’s vote. "Because of the significant damage in these areas from the hurricane, these voters don’t have access to media coverage of the announcement about this change in elections procedures," he wrote. "The voters in these two precincts were promised a mail-in absentee ballot in posted statements on signs at the closed polling stations.
"Then without notifying every registered voter in these two precincts, the election procedures suddenly were changed. This is a clear a violation of the voting rights of the people of Puna and must be challenged."