Pahoa Community Center will serve as a dual polling place on primary election day for Lower Puna residents whose precincts have been heavily affected by Kilauea’s ongoing volcanic eruption. The polling place will serve voters who are normally assigned to the community center, as well as those assigned to Pahoa High and Intermediate School. The school will be closed to voting on election day.
The state Office of Elections had initially decided to close both polling places on election day because they were worried about safety, but changed course after local candidates and the Hawaii chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union complained that this would unfairly affect voting and was causing confusion.
The ACLU threatened legal action if the policy wasn’t changed, arguing that not allowing in-person registration and voting on election day was arbitrary, unnecessary and unconstitutional.
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Election officials said they decided to open the center for voting after Hawaii County Civil Defense indicated that it was safe.
The Pahoa Community Center will also be available for early walk-in voting from July 30 to Aug. 9. The community center has been serving as a shelter for Lower Puna residents displaced by the lava flow. As of mid-July 65 people were living inside the community center, and about 100 more were living outside.
The population includes a mix of people left homeless or dislocated from the lava flow, as well as people who were homeless before the Kilauea eruption began in May.
The lava destroyed hundreds of homes in Lower Puna and forced thousands to evacuate the area. Residents are believed to be scattered throughout the islands and on the mainland.
The elections office also sent out absentee ballots in June to 6,000 registered voters in the two Puna precincts — 04-03 and 04-04 — to try and mitigate disruptions to voting.
The absentee ballots went out three weeks earlier than normal, but it’s not clear how many people have received them given the dislocations.
Voters in the precincts also can cast ballots at any of the other four early walk-in locations on Hawaii island, which are in Hilo, Kona, Pahala and Kamuela.
Voters who have left the area can re-register to vote at a new location as late as election day.