Surmounting yet another voting snafu, Hawaii awarded its Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate to appointed incumbent Brian Schatz late Friday, as he defeated Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in an election whose outcome was delayed nearly a week by the impact of Tropical Storm Iselle.
A tally of votes released late Friday showed Schatz with 115,401 overall to Hanabusa’s 113,632, a difference of less than 1,800 votes or 0.7%.
Friday’s result included votes cast from two precincts on the Big Island where balloting was postponed by the landfall of the tropical storm one day before last Saturday’s planned primary. Electricity was cut off and roads were impassable in those precincts, forcing the delay.
It also included 800 votes belatedly found — but not previously counted — from voters on Maui, state election officials said.
Among the votes cast or found Friday, Schatz won 1,601 to 1,467 for Hanabusa. Elections officials had previously said that additional votes would remain to be counted after the wave of Friday night results but that the numbers were not expected to be significant.
The discovery of the uncounted ballots produced an eye-rolling ending to an election that was fractious from the start. Schatz’s appointment to the seat by Gov. Neil Abercrombie after the December 2012 death of longtime Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye set up a grudge match of sorts with Hanabusa, whom Inouye wanted appointed to the seat.
Concerns were also raised Friday about the closure of the polling place in the Puna district before all voters had cast ballots.
That drew a reproachful tweet directed at Abercrombie by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat.
“Election shld not be closed tonight,” she said on the micro-messaging service, “Give ppl in Puna the chance to vote! Too many turned away by bureaucrats, no good!”
Earlier in the day, elections officials had reported a steady stream of voters, aided in some cases by a shuttle system set up to collect those who might find it difficult to get to the single polling location, Keonepoko Elementary School.
“We’ve been having a pretty steady turnout all morning,” Hawaii County clerk Stewart Maeda said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “We’re happily surprised.”
Hanabusa’s chances Friday hinged on success at something she was unable to accomplish when most of the votes were cast last Saturday: overwhelmingly defeating Schatz. He had won the vote already cast on the Big Island.
Schatz’s victory puts him in a favorable position for November, given the strongly Democratic cant to the island’s voters, both Democratic and Republican analysts have said.
But even a victory then would be good for only two more years — the extent of the original Inouye term that he took on. For Hawaii Democrats, the question is whether those two years will be a chance to unify — or an extended rumble ahead of another tough party primary in 2016.
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