HILO >> U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa on Wednesday asked a state court to delay Friday’s vote in two Puna precincts that could settle her Democratic primary against U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.
The congresswoman is seeking a temporary restraining order from Circuit Court in Hilo to postpone the election until Puna residents have had more time to recover from Tropical Storm Iselle.
A hearing has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday before Judge Greg Nakamura in Hilo.
The legal challenge contends that because of limited electricity and phone service, it will be impossible to ensure that all voters will be notified, “depriving voters in these areas of their right to vote.”
“I’ve spent the last four days traveling in Puna talking with people, listening to their stories of destruction and damage and seeing first hand the magnitude of the devastation they have suffered,” Hanabusa said in a statement. “It is completely unrealistic to think people struggling to find basic necessities or get out of their homes will have the ability to go to the polls this week.”
Hanabusa trails Schatz by 1,635 votes after Saturday’s election.
The state Office of Elections set a vote for Friday at Keonepoko Elementary School for voters in two precincts that did not open for Saturday’s primary because of nearby damage from Tropical Storm Iselle.
County election officials said 6,821 voters are eligible to participate in the vote. Other voters in the two precincts have already cast ballots by walk-in or mail.
“Sen. Schatz continues to focus on helping Puna recover,” campaign spokeswoman Meaghan Smith said.
“The Office of Elections or the courts will determine the best way to move forward to maximize voter participation. Sen. 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,” she said.
Hanabusa’s complaint maintains that under state law election officials have up to 21 days to conduct the vote by absentee ballot delivered by mail or by hand. Election officials, the complaint claims, would fail to meet the service requirement for delivering ballots unless every voter in the two precincts shows up at the polling place on Friday.
The complaint alleges that holding the election on Friday would be a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, which protect voting rights.