Citing the continued effects of Tropical Storm Iselle, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the Hawaii Office of Elections in an effort to push back a scheduled makeup vote this week that will decide the Democratic primary between her and appointed incumbent U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.
“As of this filing, voters in the affected area are still without power and local roads remain blocked,” Hanabusa’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit filed in the state’s Circuit Court against chief election officer Scott Nago. “With blocked roads, widespread damage, and limited means of communication, there is no practical manner to ensure that all residents will receive adequate notice of the announced election or be able to access the precincts on that day.”
A hearing on the lawsuit is set for Thursday.
Residents of two Big Island precincts in the Puna area were unable to cast ballots on Saturday because of Iselle. Initially, state officials had said they would mail ballots to those who had not voted before the storm. However, on Monday, Nago announced that voting in those precincts would be held Friday and storm-ravaged residents could vote only at a local elementary school.
Schatz holds a lead of 1,635 votes -- out of 230,000 cast -- over Hanabusa with ballots in from all but the two precincts. About 8,000 voters live in the two precincts, and many either already cast ballots or don’t regularly vote.
A request for comment from Nago’s office was not immediately returned on Wednesday.
Meaghan Smith, a spokeswoman for Schatz’s campaign, said that “the Office of Elections or the courts will determine the best way to move forward to maximize voter participation.”
“Sen. 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,” Smith said.
State law provides for up to 21 days after the Aug. 9 election for officials to decide an election date for voters impacted by the storm.
Among the remaining votes to be cast, votes for Hanabusa would have to overwhelm the number received by Schatz, something the congresswoman failed to do in any area of the state on Saturday.
“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,” Hanabusa said in a statement Wednesday.
Schatz and Hanabusa are vying to serve out the final two years of late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s term. The longtime senator died in 2012.