Puna election plan in place, absentee precincts declared

  • Scott Nago

State elections officials hope to avoid a repeat of 2014, when a natural disaster wreaked havoc on Puna elections and sent a candidate in a tight election to court. That year it was Tropical Storm Iselle. This year it’s Kilauea volcano.

A proclamation signed Thursday by Chief Election Officer Scott Nago designates polling places 04-03, Pahoa Community Center, and 04-04, Pahoa High/Intermediate School, as absentee mail precincts for the primary election. This means there will be no physical polling places for those voters.

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“Delaying a decision regarding the conduct of the primary election in District Precincts 04-03 and 04-04 may cause confusion and disrupt the election,” the proclamation states. In 2014, then-Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa unsuccessfully sued the state Elections Office after two precincts were closed because of storm damage.

Hanabusa, who was trailing Brian Schatz by 1,635 votes in the Democratic primary for a U.S. Senate seat, sued after the state changed the method and time of election three times in a three-day period.

Nago first indicated the state would conduct a three-week election by absentee ballots and then scheduled a makeup election at a physical polling place in less than a week. The two precincts contained about 8,000 voters.

Ultimately, Schatz claimed victory by fewer than 1,800 votes.

Hanabusa is running for another top office this year — she’s challenging incumbent Gov. David Ige in the Democratic primary.

Absentee ballots will be sent automatically to residences in those two precincts, Hawaii County Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto said Thursday. That means would-be voters should change their mailing addresses with the county Elections Division right away.

Voters can change their addresses by submitting a voter registration affidavit or an absentee application to the Elections Office at 25 Aupuni St., Room 1502, Hilo, HI 96720.

Forms can be downloaded at https://elections.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/Voter-Registration-and-Permanent-Absentee-Application_Form-Fillable.pdf. For more information, call 961-8277.

“It’s important that they change their mailing addresses with us because the post office will not forward ballots,” Nakamoto said.

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The county plans to mail out ballots June 25. Voters also can walk in to early voting sites, such as Aupuni Center, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday beginning July 30. Primary election day is Aug. 11.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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