Judge: Big Island primary election will happen Friday

Keonepoko Elementary School

A judge has denied Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s request for an emergency temporary restraining order Thursday in 3rd Circuit Court on the Big Island.

The drama played out for less than an hour in the courtroom of Circuit Court Judge Gregg Nakamura before the judge rendered his decision from the bench to allow the election to go forth.

That means polling will be conducted as planned Friday at Keonepoko Elementary via walk-in, electronic voting from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The election will take place after polls at Hawaii Paradise Community Center and Keonepoko Elementary failed to open during the primary election this past Saturday. Officials said impassable roads left much of that community isolated.

Hanabusa filed a lawsuit against chief elections officer Scott Nago Thursday to stop the primary election on the Big Island.

Download a copy of the complaint here (.pdf).

The filing was a motion for an emergency temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctive relief, which together, if granted, would have served to postpone the election.

“The state is pleased that the judge ruled the way he did. We are happy that the election will go forward tomorrow as we believe would be appropriate,” said deputy attorney general John Molay. “It’s always a difficult decision to make as to when to conduct an election under these circumstances. It’s always a choice from someone who wants to vote whether or not they are able or willing to put aside what they’re doing and go vote, and we would submit that under the circumstances now, it would not be innapropriate to conduct this election and people would be able to go to the polling places and participate.

Nago’s attorney said Thursday that Hanabusa had no standing to bring her request to court.

“We believe that (Rep. Hanabusa) did not have the right to speak on behalf of the voters in the Puna district,” he said. “No one appointed her to be their spokesperson. We also believe that the court ruled correctly and we had raised that issue in our opposition that no court has ever stopped an election the day before.”

“I think it’s an unfortunate decision for the people of Puna, however I also thought it was very interesting that the judge himself felt that this was really not the right thing to do,” Rep. Hanabusa told KHON2. “He said it lacked common sense. He said it was insensitive.”

Hanabusa’s attorney, Richard Wurdeman, said while they are disappointed with the decision, they are not focused on any additional legal action right now.

“Actual voters and their ability to actually vote, that fundamental right, that cornerstone of democracy, that’s whats being violated in this case,” he said. “The people of Puna, the entire district including those two precincts are still trying to deal with the devastation of the tropical storm and one of the last things on their minds right now is where to go to vote.

“Right now the Congresswoman is focused on continuing her assistance and relief efforts to people in the Puna district and to the extent that people are able to vote tomorrow, I hope they’ll make that attempt but we certainly understand the difficulties they’re experiencing right now,” Wurdeman added.

“We are extremely disappointed for the people of Puna, especially since Judge Nakamura said that holding this election tomorrow lacks ‘common sense’ and ‘shows some insensitivity to the plight of people in Puna,’” Hanabusa’s campaign communications director Peter Boylan said in a statement. “The judge decided that they did not deserve more time to focus on recovering from the effects of the storm. We will continue to distribute food, water, fruit and ice to those in need but we need people to be aware that there is an election tomorrow. We are canvassing the precincts and will provide rides to anyone who needs a lift to Keonepoko Elementary School. This campaign is not over and we will continue to work very hard to earn every vote.”

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.

Stay with KHON2.com for updates.


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