Election preparations for Puna lava threat

Election preparations for Puna lava threat

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow)

Election officials are preparing for the possibility that the Puna lava flow could potentially disrupt voting in next month's general election. Hawaii's election chief outlined plans at a state Elections Commission meeting on Friday, but some critics fear a repeat of problems that happened during the primary due to Tropical Storm Iselle.

"Please prevent another man-made disaster caused by the Elections Office," said State Sen. Russell Ruderman (D-Puna, Kau).

He recommended mail-in ballots only for next month's election for precincts in lower Puna that could be affected by the lava.

"We do not know at this time which precincts will be accessible, which neighborhoods will be accessible," said Ruderman.

But Chief Election Officer Scott Nago said that under the law, he couldn't carry out Ruderman's suggestion.

"In order for us to send out absentee ballots, accessibility has to be substantially impeded right now, which it isn't," Nago explained.

With some families moving out of harm's way, the state mailed an application for an absentee ballot to nearly 8,000 voters in three precincts last week.

"It says on the application where you want your ballot sent to so that ballot will be sent there rather than to the resident's address," said Nago.

An additional early walk-in voting site will also be opened at the Nanawale Community Center, according to Nago.

"Depending where the lava impacts will determine whether or not we have to consolidate polling places or find another means of voting," said Nago.

"You've got to be able to predict the path of the lava, too. So who knows? But I have confidence that Scott is on top of it and will do the correct thing," said William Marston, chair of the Elections Commission.

The commissioners also presented results from their internal investigation into problems with the primary. One inquiry confirmed that a mistake by vendor Hart InterCivic led to a delay in counting 800 Maui ballots. Another report found that Nago consulted the appropriate authorities for his decision-making during Iselle.

"Determining whether the decisions made were lawful and or proper, that was not within the parameters of my inquiry," said Victor Vierra, a commissioner from Hawaii Island.

The findings will be discussed at the commission's next meeting on November 14.

"People are really frustrated and they're upset. They don't see anything happening with errors and perceived errors," said State Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai, Waialae-Kahala).

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