Concerns over new plan to get storm affected residents to vote

The Office of Elections announced last Friday that voters assigned to two polling places on the Big Island affected by Iselle, both in the Puna District, would receive absentee ballots instead.

Under state law, they’d be given no more than 21 days to vote.

But there’s now been a change of plans.

The Office of Elections announced on Monday afternoon that the remaining voters will have to cast their ballots in person this Friday, Statehood Day, at Keonepoko Elementary School.

Their votes will make the difference in the close race for US Senate, between Democrats Brian Schatz and Colleen Hanabusa.

Political analyst and HPU Professor Dr. John Hart shared with KHON2 his thoughts on the situation.

“Well it would’ve been preferable if we were going to open the precincts to start there rather than announcing or at least implying we would be doing three weeks, absentee balloting.  So whether it’s a good idea or not, if we wanted this, should’ve started here,” said Hart.  “You know, people were expecting one thing, now they’re doing another.  Campaigns expected to have a three week campaign, knock on every door, have lunches, sit downs.”

In fact, both Schatz and Hanabusa are now on the Big Island visiting with the residents affected by the storm.

Schatz leads the race for the US Senate seat by only 1,635 votes.  And more than 6,800 votes are up for grabs.

In order for Hanabusa to win, Hart said: “She needs to get let’s say three out of five, she needs 60% of the vote, she can’t split.”

Philip Matlage, the Puna District Chair of the Democratic Party, doesn’t think the new plan is a good idea.

“Well it’s difficult to make sense of it because we’re facing a walk-in election where people are going to have to drive ten or 15 miles to go vote on a weekday, rather than on a Saturday. Without adequate notice, people aren’t going to be able to find out there’s even an election happening,” Matlage said.

Many of the remaining voters still don’t have electricity in their homes.

The Office of Elections told KHON2 that it plans to get the word out about where and when they can vote by mailing the information to them, and posting signs along the highway.

“I’m afraid the entire process will be called into question because we are not going to be offered adequate notice,” Matlage said.

The decision to have the voting on Friday is not sitting well with Hanabusa.

Her spokesman Peter Boylan released a statement saying that the decision from the Office of elections is “disappointing” and “unrealistic.”

Since many residents in the area are dealing with power and phone outages, Hanabusa’s campaign asks how the state plans to notify them about Friday’s vote.

Her campaign went on to say they are reviewing all legal options.

KHON2 reached out to the Schatz campaign, but has not heard back yet.

Only voters assigned to Hawaiian Paradise Community Center and Keonepoko Elementary School who haven’t cast a ballot yet will be allowed to vote on Friday at Keonepoko Elementary School, from 7 a.m. till 6 p.m.

Elections officials say they should have results within an hour after the polling site closes, so that would be around 7 p.m. on Friday.

The winner of the Democratic race for US Senate will go on to face Republican winner Cam Cavasso in the General Election.

Cavasso told KHON2 Monday night that he is also on the Big Island.

He said: “I want to view the status of the situation myself and help in any way I can.  I am going to start by taking some water and other fluids into the area during my visit for the people clearing debris in Puna and other affected areas.”

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