U.S. Representative Coleen Hanabusa was in court on the Big Island today. She filed a request for a restraining order that would immediately halt the planned special election this Friday on that island. Hanabusa filed a request for a temporary restraining order in a Hilo court Wednesday, seeking to halt a primary election scheduled for Friday in two Big Island precincts that are still recovering from Tropical Storm Iselle.
The complaint was filed in Third Circuit Court shortly before noon today. If successful, the order would stop Hawai’i Chief Election Officer Scott Nago from holding the election. Hanabusa is trailing incumbent U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz by 1,635 votes in the race to determine the winner of the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.
There are more than enough potential votes at stake. The two Big Island precincts are home to more than 6,800 registered voters who had not cast their ballots as of Saturday, August 9th. Yesterday, Hanabusa sent a letter to the state Office of Elections saying that voters in the Puna area, who were unable to vote in Saturday’s primary, needed more time to recover from the storm before opening the polls.
“A large number of voters in those two precincts are still without power or water and some residents have yet to receive regular mail service,” Hanabusa said in a statement. “I’ve spent the last four days traveling in Puna talking with people, listening to their stories of destruction and damage and seeing first hand the magnitude of the devastation they have suffered.
“It is completely unrealistic to think people struggling to find basic necessities or get out of their homes will have the ability to go to the polls this week,” she said. Her complaint alleges that holding the election on Friday would be a violation
of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, which protect voting rights.
The state has 21 days from Saturday’s primary to make arrangements for the estimated 6,821 registered voters affected by the storm to cast their votes. The state Office of Elections had initially said ballots would be mailed to voters, but then said Monday that polls would be open on Friday for the election. In either scenario, the deadline is August 30.