Hanabusa files lawsuit to delay Friday election


U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, right, greets a supporter while campaigning for U.S. Senate in Honolulu on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. The legacy of late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye has lingered over a tight primary between Hanabusa and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz as they contend in a Democratic primary. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa filed a lawsuit Wednesday aimed at postponing Friday's election for voters in two Big Island precincts who were unable to cast ballots in Saturday's primary because of storm damage.

Hanabusa, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, trails Sen. Brian Schatz (D) by fewer than 1,700 votes in the most closely-watched Hawaii primary in a generation. Damage from Tropical Storm Iselle prevented voters in two Puna precincts from casting ballots on primary day.

After first saying it would issue absentee ballots to those voters after the primary, state elections officials announced they would hold an in-person vote on Friday in for voters in those precincts.

Hanabusa is arguing that storm damage and recovery efforts could still prevent many voters from casting ballots on Friday.

"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," she said in a statement.

Schatz's campaign said it leaves the decision of when to hold the vote up to the state.

"Senator Schatz continues to focus on helping Puna recover," said Schatz spokeswoman Meaghan Smith in a statement. "The Office of Elections or the courts will determine the best way to move forward to maximize voter participation. Senator 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."

It will be very difficult for Hanabusa to erase her margin. After taking absentee ballots into account, there are some 6,800 voters in the two outstanding precincts who have yet to cast ballots. If turnout is low, as it was on Saturday, Hanabusa's odds will be even steeper.

Hanabusa has also voiced concerns that voters in other Puna precincts that were not shut down Saturday were not able to  cast ballots.

“We’re talking about people who feared for their physical safety if they traveled that day," she said. “I believe that every single vote should count and that we have an obligation to do all we can to ensure what is the most basic and fundamental right of American citizens.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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Sean Sullivan · August 13, 2014

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