The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii Foundation filed a lawsuit Thursday asking the State Supreme Court to allow any registered voter affected by Tropical Storm Iselle to cast a vote that will be included in the August 2014 primary results.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of six registered Big Island voters who claimed that while they were dealing with storm damage, their precincts remained open. “They were physically unable to get to their polling places on the day of the primary and they weren’t given a second chance to cast their ballot,” said senior staff attorney Daniel Gluck. “We have six plaintiffs named in our complaint, each of whom talks about how there were trees in front of their roads. Two lead plaintiffs talk about how there were 20 trees in their driveway alone.”
The lawsuit also asks the court to find that the legislature failed in its constitutional obligation to protect the fundamental right to vote by delegating all decisions relating to natural disasters to the Office of Elections.
ACLU Hawaii says it is not challenging the results of any particular race nor does it endorse any campaign.
On August 6, 2014, Governor Abercrombie signed an emergency proclamation, in advance of two storms, Iselle and Julio, which were projected to impact Hawaii. The proclamation, which was valid from August 6 through August 15, included a statement that “the danger of disaster is of such magnitude to warrant preemptive and protective action in order to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of the people[.]”
According to the complaint, facing massive damage from Iselle on August 8, and thousands of Hawaii County residents dealing with historic flooding, power outages, property damage, and road closures – some of which continue even now – the Chief Election Officer determined that the primary would go on as scheduled on August 9. The Chief Elections Officer went on to change the rules of the election (who could vote, where and how) at least two more times over the course of three days.
This series of decisions led to the denial of the right to vote for many Hawaii County residents. Precinct 04-03 had among its lowest voter turnout ever, said ACLU.
“Although the votes in question may not change the outcome of any of the various races, the ACLU filed this suit because the right to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy,” Gluck said. “Every vote counts equally – this is about an individual exercising a fundamental right and not about the results of any single race. The government has a duty to respond to conditions on the ground to make sure people can vote. Here the government failed to do that, and changes are needed now to preserve the integrity of future elections.”