The Pahoa Community Center will open as a polling place on primary election day, Aug. 11, to allow residents hardest hit by the ongoing Kilauea eruption to register and vote on the same day.
The site will serve as a joint polling site for voters in in Puna District Precincts 04-03 and 04-04, which include Leilani Estates and Kapoho among other neighborhoods.
Previously, Chief Election Officer Scott Nago had said voters in the two precincts would be able to vote only by absentee mail ballot because of the continuing eruption.
Residents of the two precincts will be allowed to register and vote in person Aug. 11 if they have not already voted by absentee ballot, according to a proclamation issued Friday by the state Office of Elections and the Hawaii County Clerk’s Office.
Early walk-in voting will also be available at Pahoa Community Center from July 30 to Aug. 9.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and legislators had criticized the decision to allow only absentee mail voting, given challenges facing residents whose homes have been destroyed or made inaccessible by the months-long eruption.
In a June 29 letter, the ACLU of Hawaii’s legal director, Director Mateo Caballero, told elections officials that “refusal to allow in-person registration and voting on election day would not only be arbitrary and unnecessary, but would also not survive constitutional muster.” He threatened legal action unless the policy was changed by July 6.
Joshua Wisch, ACLU executive director, thanked election officials for deciding to open the polling station.
“As a direct result of their decision, taken in coordination with County of Hawaii Civil Defense, Hawaii Island residents who have been affected by the volcanic activity will now be able to fully exercise their right to vote,” he said.
Nago told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald that the decision to open the polling station was not in response to the ACLU letter but made after consultation with Civil Defense because the situation had stabilized on the ground.
Hawaii County elections administrator Pat Nakamoto said ballots to the 6,070 affected voters were mailed last week and 48 had been returned by Thursday. Absentee mail ballots for other precincts will be mailed July 17.
Nakamoto said voters may still use walk-in voting sites if they were mailed an absentee ballot. Voters can use any early walk-in site around the county but must use their designated polling place on primary election day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.