An effort by U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to delay a special election was denied by a circuit court judge Thursday -- a move that brings Hawaii a step closer to deciding the outcome of its bitter Democratic Senate primary.
In an oral decision delivered from his bench, Judge Greg Nakamura said that while the situation may not be ideal, the court would not grant a motion to delay Friday’s election for voters from two Big Island precincts affected by Tropical Storm Iselle.
Hanabusa, who is vying to unseat appointed U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the Hawaii Office of Elections in an effort to push back the scheduled makeup vote following the state’s primary last weekend. She said recovery was still underway, making it “unrealistic” to think people could actually make it to polling places and vote.
“What this case is really about is fairness,” said Richard Wurdeman, an attorney for Hanabusa, during the court hearing. “People have died on battlefields for fundamental rights to vote.”
Still, Deputy Atty. Gen. John Molay, who represented the state’s top elections chief, Scott Nago, said the office of elections was told by local officials that residents could make it to a designated polling place.
With the decision from Nakamura, voters from those two precints -- in the Puna District -- will be able to cast ballots at a local elementary school on Friday.
Among the remaining ballots 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 during Saturday’s primary.
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.
Peter Boylan, a spokesman for Hanabusa, said the campaign is “extremely disappointed” by the court ruling, but did not indicate an appeal would come from the congresswoman.
“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. This campaign is not over and we will continue to work very hard to earn every vote,” Boylan said.
Meanwhile, Schatz’s campaign responded to Thursday’s ruling with a statement noting the senator’s focus will remain on recovery efforts.
“His commitment to recovery in Puna extends beyond the election,” said Clay Schroers, Schatz’s campaign manager.
Schatz and Hanabusa are vying to serve the final two years of the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s term. The longtime senator died in 2012.