PAHOA, Hawaii »Rhio Markley was the last person to vote Tuesday in the Puna district.
She arrived at the Nanawale Estates Community Center in Pahoa four minutes before closing time on her antique motorcycle, which gets 90 miles to the gallon.
Markley, who has been living in the district for 30 years, became the 29th person to vote early in Puna on Tuesday. That made her one of 105,158 registered voters on Hawaii island, and the last voter to cast a ballot on the first day of early voting across the state.
Hawaii County decided to provide early walk-in voting to Puna in case Madame Pele decides to pick up the pace on the June 27 lava flow from Kilauea Volcano.
Markley said she decided to vote early after driving by a sign for absentee voting on the side of the road. At the time, she was listening to a radio newscaster list all the early-voting sites on Hawaii island.
"Except they didn’t mention Puna," she explained.
Being left or otherwise forgotten seems to be a recurring theme for the small district located about an hour outside Hilo. It wasn’t until the aftermath of Tropical Storm Iselle and the threat of encroaching lava did the otherwise quiet and peaceful town get some time in the spotlight.
Kenn Nagasawa, precinct chairman for Puna and one of several workers Tuesday, recalled working at one of the two polls that opened up after the August primary election. Damage from Iselle caused two precincts to close the day of the primary, meaning nearly 8,200 registered voters would have to wait to cast their ballots. Later, the state Office of Elections decided to reopen two of the precincts in the area to voters, leaving the fate of the U.S. Senate election in doubt.
And while some people were able to vote, Nagasawa said others were still blocked off from the storm and that the decision to reopen only two precincts left people with a lot of questions.
"I think it would have helped to have (Chief Election Officer) Scott Nago or the mayor or someone from the state come in and explain to the people how and why that decision was made," he said.
Since the complications of Iselle, Hawaii County Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto said the county decided to be more prepared this time around. "We decided to hold early voting because we didn’t know what was going to happen with the lava flow."
And according to Markley, it’s still anyone’s guess. She said she was just thankful she got to vote and that Hurricane Ana passed by the island.
"This is a heavy-duty time," she said while putting her hands against her face. "I thought to myself, ‘If I have to wrap my house with tarp again, I’d lose it.’ The only thing I can do is pray."