Rep. Colleen Hanabusa says she will file a lawsuit to stop the election from taking place in storm-ravaged areas this Friday. Her office confirmed the move late Tuesday.
Hanabusa is in a tight race with Sen. Brian Schatz for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat. Both candidates are in Puna, helping with recovery efforts.
Hanabusa says the people of the Puna district impacted by Iselle need to focus on recovery, not voting.
KHON2 spoke with members of both political parties, who agree the voting planned for this Friday in the hardest hit areas should be pushed back.
“I think it’s unfair to these people to be forced to go to the polling places while they’re trying to survive,” said Pat Saiki, Hawaii Republican Party chair.
Just days after being hit by Hurricane Iselle, people living in two Big Island precincts are being asked to head to the polls and cast their votes on Friday. The problem is many are still without power and some are even still stuck in their neighborhoods because of downed trees.
Some are calling this unfair, especially since so many are still just trying to get back on their feet.
“My concern is for the people in general. It’s not fair to be forced to do this in such a short period of time,” Saiki said.
“It’s unreasonable to expect the registered voters would be able to come to vote on a single day at one lone polling station on such short notice,” said David Tarnas, Hawaii County Chairman, Democratic Party of Hawaii.
The votes could impact the final outcome in the Senate race between Shatz and Hanabusa. Schatz leads by about 1,600 votes and the final 6,800 votes in the Puna area could swing the election.
According to Meaghan Smith, spokesperson for Schatz’s campaign, released a statement saying, “The independent nonpartisan experts at the Office of Elections and the County Clerk from Hawai’i Island are in a far better position to evaluate how to proceed with this election than anyone else.”
Some members of both parties are doing everything they can to push that date back, but as of now it seems Friday will be Election Day.
“It’s about participation. You want people to be able to vote and make wise choices and you’re denying them that by putting this kind of a time limit so soon,” Saiki said. “(Election officials have) got 21 days according to the law. Somewhere along in there, I’m sure they’ll find a better time for people to take care of their needs first, then pay attention to what’s going on in government.”
So is there a chance that things could get pushed back past Friday? According to the Office of Elections’ Rex Quidilla, “Right now that’s not a decision before us. We are working toward election on Friday.”
State Rep. Faye Hanohano, who is seeking re-election from the affected House District 04, also raised concerns over the plan.
“Why are they making it harder for my constituents to vote? Don’t they realize most of these families have no power, no water, and no information on where or when to vote?” she said. “Over 8,000 homes are without power and many roads are still being cleared by Civil Defense. Basic human health and safety needs come first and postponing the vote will not jeopardize one life, but leaving basic needs unmet could endanger many and will unnecessarily place my constituents in harm’s way. That is intolerable and unacceptable.”