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Storm cuts into voting on Big Isle

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 1:51 a.m. HST, Aug 9, 2014

Two Hawaii island polling sites will be closed Saturday and voting postponed for affected voters while election officials try to determine how to distribute and collect absentee ballots from the areas hemmed in by damaged roads stemming from Tropical Storm Iselle.

With the exception of the polling sites at Hawaii Paradise Community Center and Keone-opoko Elementary School, all other polling sites are expected to open as scheduled from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"We found out that there are miles of roads that are obstructed," state Attorney General David Louie said Friday at a news conference with Gov. Neil Abercrombie and emergency operations officials at Diamond Head Crater. "There's albizia trees, some very large, that are blocking roads, so access to the polling places is disrupted -- you can't even get in there."

There are about 8,000 affected registered voters, but some may have cast early ballots.

Chief Election Officer Scott Nago said in a news release that voting in the affected areas would be done by absentee ballot, but it has not yet been determined how those ballots would be distributed and collected.

"So the elections chief will continue to consult with my office," Louie said, "and will continue to consult with Civil Defense to figure out when we can do that, and we're going to do that just as soon as is practical."

The closure is not expected to affect the release of results once remaining polls close. However, votes tabulated after Saturday will be added to the overall total, meaning some outcomes could potentially be affected.

"For local elections, these votes of these people in these communities can matter," Louie said.

Elections Division spokesman Rex Quidilla said the office is working to determine how many of the affected voters had cast early ballots, and those votes would be included with results released Saturday.

Voters are deciding key races for governor, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House, along with the usual slate of state legislative and trustee races.

Election officials, in conjunction with the attorney general and emergency management officials, will continue to monitor the storm activity and make further adjustments as warranted.

Louie added that officials at storm shelters that also double as polling sites have conducted assessments and determined that no polling sites will have to be consolidated. The chief election officer has the power to consolidate polling sites if necessary.

"All polling places that have been designated are going to be open, even the ones that were shelters," Louie said. "The shelters are being taken care of so that that will not affect the election for all polling places."

Among the most watched races are those for governor and U.S. Senate, where incumbents are facing stiff challenges in their hopes of remaining in office.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie is facing a challenge from state Sen. David Ige as he tries to win election to a second term. Ige, who was little known outside of his district before this campaign, held a commanding 18-point lead in the most recent Hawaii Poll conducted last month for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now.

The winner is likely to face Republican Duke Aiona and Hawaii Independent Party candidate Mufi Hannemann in the November general election.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, who was appointed by Abercrombie to the Senate following the December 2012 death of U.S. Sen.Daniel Inouye, is fending off a challenge from U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. Hanabusa, who is surrendering her House seat, led Schatz by 8 points in the Hawaii Poll.

The winner would face likely GOP nominee Cam Cavasso for the right to serve the final two years of Inouye's six-year term that began in 2008.

Meanwhile, the scramble for Hanabusa's House seat in the state's 1st Congressional District, representing urban Oahu, features seven candidates, led by state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim and state Rep. Mark Takai, who both received 28 percent in the Hawaii Poll. Others in the race include state Sen. Will Espero; Honolulu City Councilmen Ikaika Anderson, Stanley Chang and Joey Manahan; and human rights advocate Kathryn Xian.

The winner is likely to face Republican and former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou in November.

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