Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has officially filed a lawsuit against chief elections officer Scott Nago to stop Friday’s primary election on the Big Island.
The suit was filed in 3rd Circuit Court on the Big Island at 9:54 a.m. Wednesday.
Polls at Hawaii Paradise Community Center and Keonepoko Elementary failed to open during the primary election this past Saturday after officials said impassable roads left much of that community isolated. Now, the Office of Elections says polling will be conducted Friday at Keonepoko Elementary via walk-in, electronic voting.
The filing is a motion for an emergency temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctive relief, which together, if granted, would effectively serve to postpone the election.
We could know by Thursday morning whether or not that will happen. A hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday in Hilo.
“This Court has the power and duty to act to prevent the disenfranchisement of voters in Hawaii,” according to the suit. It calls the Friday election a “direct contradiction of… the Hawaii Constitution.”
The suit continues on to say, “The balance of the irreparable damage favors the issuance of a temporary injunction because to do otherwise, would disenfranchise thousands of voters. Issuing the injunction will not cause any damage to the Defendant or to the public.”
“I think the lawsuit has merit because there’s such disarray in Puna,” said Michael Lilly, former state attorney general.
Lilly says Rep. Hanabusa has a good chance of getting Friday’s planned election in Puna postponed. “People don’t have power, they can’t get in and out of their homes, and they’re still going to have an election this Friday, on a state holiday? That’s outrageous,” he said.
Another expert said off-camera that although holding off on the election would be the right thing to do, the state has every right to continue it as planned.
Current State Attorney General David Louie has maintained that officials are working within the laws, given the natural disaster of Iselle.
When asked about releasing the results before the polls in Puna close, Louie said last Friday, “By the law, the law which was passed by our legislature, deals with this and says no, you just go forward and report because you’ll have those results.”
KHON2 asked Lilly whether the state did something wrong or illegal.
“Yes, by releasing the poll results while there were polls that haven’t closed, they violated two statutes, our voting election laws,” Lilly said.
Lilly is referring to two statues. He says the the law clearly states: “…there shall be no printout by the computer or other disclosure of the number of votes cast for a candidate or on a question prior to the closing of the polls.”
Another says: “In no case, however, shall the results of the absentee count become publicly known before the polls have officially closed.”
He believes, because results were already released, Hawaii should hold a special election for the races that were too close to call.
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.
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.
The sentiment has been echoed by other local political leaders, however Schatz’s campaign has stated that it will leave the decision to the Office of Elections and the County Clerk from Hawaii Island.
“Senator Schatz continues to focus on helping Puna recover,” campaign spokesperson Meaghan Smith said in a statement Wednesday. “The Office of Elections or the courts will determine the best way to move forward to maximize voter participation. Senator Schatz believes that the voters in Puna and across Hawaii must be given fair access to voting and the Senator’s campaign will be committed and respectful whenever the election is held. The Senator’s priority is to help the people of Puna get back on their feet.”
The filing says that Nago and Attorney General David Louie received copies of the suit by fax and email, and that personal service of the complaint had been arranged.
Rep. Hanabusa is represented by law firms based in Honolulu, Hawaii Island and Washington, D.C.
KHON2 tried to contact Nago, but was told officials cannot comment on pending litigation.