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Puna residents break from lava flow prep to cast ballots

    2014 November 4 CTY - Voting Pahoa Community Center, Pahoa, Hawaii. PHOTO BY DARYL LEE / SPECIAL TO THE HSA

PAHOA >> Residents in Hawaii island’s Puna District took a break from lava updates and preparation to vote in Tuesday’s general election.

Kate Cruse, 60, of Ainaloa, arrived at the Pahoa Community Center mid-afternoon.

It was relatively calm at the usually busy facility that has served as a disaster relief information center for area residents preparing for the inundation of lava from Kilauea Volcano. The so-called June 27th lava flow was about 480 feet from Pahoa Village Road on Election Day.  

Cruse said she was happy she got to vote and that election officials prepared last month for the possibility that lava might pose a problem come Nov. 4.

"Because the lava is so unpredictable," she said.

Cruse would know better than anyone how Mother Nature might interrupt Election Day plans, as was the case in September when Tropical Storm Iselle wreaked havoc.  

"I wasn’t able to vote during the primary. I had two trees on my house and I was just so caught up with everything from the storm," she said.  

Frances Liwai, 62, lives in Hawaiian Beaches and on Tuesday was able to cast a ballot at Keonepoko Elementary School, currently in Pele’s path — its students relocated in preparation for the flow.

Liwai said she was thankful to have made it to the polls. "We’re very fortunate that lava hasn’t come yet. We’re all having to wait and see," she said.

The turnout at Keonepoko was "pretty good," said Gerald Ragsdale Jr., an election official at the school.

He also worked the primary election and said the turnout was a little slower due to the storm where people showed up and "were just happy to be alive. "

Hawaii County Clerk Stewart Maeda said it was difficult to determine what impact the lava may have had on the outcome of Tuesday’s General Election.

"We had early voting at Nanawale, and told people … to vote early," he said. "It will be hard to tell what the turnout will be," he said. 

Keita Jo, a resident of Hawaiian Paradise Park and an election official at the Pahoa High School cafeteria, said he thinks the turnout was higher than the primary.

He also saw an increase of absentee voters. "A lot of people went from not having an absentee ballot to having an absentee ballot," he said.

"Last time it was hectic. A lot of people were caught off guard. The benefit now is that we had some foresight. With Iselle in the rearview mirror, we knew what to expect," he said about the election preparation efforts.

Elizabeth Weatherford, an election official who has been working the polls since 2004, said she was pleased they had early voting for the first time in a rural area such as the Puna District.

"I think it will be more valuable in the future," she said.

Her mind was elsewhere Tuesday, she admitted, as her and her husband had moved some of their belongings in preparation for the lava flow just the day before.

"We packed this weekend and yesterday unloaded," she said. "My mind is kind of elsewhere."

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