5 Reasons Hanabusa Filed a Lawsuit to Delay Big Island Election

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has filed a motion in Circuit Court to delay the makeup election in Puna. Here’s her argument.
Photos: Diane Lee


UPDATE: A Big Island judge has ruled that the Friday (Aug. 15) makeup election will continue as planned at Keonepoko Elementary School. Only those registered voters affected by the closing of Hawaiian Paradise Park Community Center and Keonepoko Elementary on primary election day are eligible to cast a ballot. Polls open at 7 a.m. and will close at 6 p.m. 

When state election officials announced earlier this week that a makeup election for residents of storm-ravaged Puna would be held in less than five days (Aug. 15), it got our political team wondering just how registered voters could be notified in time—especially since many still lack electricity, phone service and other necessities.

It turns out, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who finds herself trailing her challenger Sen. Brian Schatz by 1,635 votes, is asking the same question. She has filed a motion in Circuit Court to postpone Friday’s vote until residents have sufficiently recovered from the storm.

To be sure, Hanabusa’s chances of turning the results of the election in her favor are slim. For instance, if turnout is 41 percent in Puna—mirroring the state’s turnout—Hanabusa would need 75 percent of 3,280 voters to win. And she’d win by five whole votes.

Still, a delayed vote would increase turnout (which potentially benefits Hanabusa’s razor-thin chances) and ensure all voters are informed enough to exercise their Constitutional right.

We’ve combed through Hanabusa’s motion to summarize the main reasons she is pushing to delay Friday’s makeup election.

1. Inadequate Notice

Tropical Storm Iselle knocked out power, toppled trees and made roads and driveways impassable. With residents off the power grid and phone service limited, Hanabusa contends many residents will not know that an election has been scheduled.

State election officials say they’re notifying residents via postcards in the mail and banners along roadways. Her motion contends that communication is limited and residents will not receive adequate notice.

2. Blocked Roadways

Some roads in the area are still blocked by downed trees and debris, making it physically difficult or “impractical” for voters to physically get to the polling place to vote. “While main roads have been cleared, damage and roadblocks continue to impact voters,” the motion reads.

3. Increased Burden

Two polling places were affected by the state’s decision to delay voting in Puna because of storm damage—Keonepoko Elementary School and Hawaiian Paradise Park Community Center. When state election officials announced they would hold a makeup election for the area Friday, they also decided to combine the two polling sites. All voters are being asked to vote at Keonepoko Elementary.

Why is this a problem? Hanabusa’s motion contends that since the two polling sites are more than 8 miles apart, those who usually vote at Hawaiian Paradise Park Community Center will need to travel an extra distance to exercise their right, placing an increased burden on them.

4. Violates State Law

Elections officials originally said they would hold a makeup election via absentee ballots. Monday’s announcement that the state would instead hold a walk-in vote at Keonepoko Elementary reversed that initial decision.

Hanabusa’s motion contends state law requires that voters affected by natural disasters receive absentee ballots “delivered by hand or mail.” A walk-in vote would not meet this requirement, since there are likely to be voters who won’t show up. In other words, in order for Friday’s election to be legal under state law, every registered voter would need to appear at the polling place.

5. Violation of Constitutional Rights

“This court has the power and duty to act to prevent the disenfranchisement of voters in Hawaii,” the motion reads. By going forward with an election, Hanabusa maintains that voters would be deprived of their Constitutional rights provided under the First and 14th Amendment.

The state Office of Elections expects to release the election results Friday, Aug. 15 night.