In face of storms and a request to delay, primary election still on

In face of storms and a request to delay, primary election still on
Published: Aug. 5, 2014 at 9:43 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 6, 2014 at 4:38 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Saturday's primary election will go on as scheduled, the state's chief elections officer and a spokeswoman for the attorney general said Tuesday, as two storms headed toward Hawaii and one candidate called for a delay in voting.

"Our intention is to have voting on Saturday, given what we know today, we plan to conduct Election Day as usual," said state Chief Election Officer Scott Nago. He and other county election officials have the power to consolidate polling places if some of them are knocked out of commission because of a natural disaster.

Anne Lopez, the spokeswoman for state Attorney General David Loui, said "There is no plan to postpone the primary election. The attorney general in conjunction with the chief election officer, has assessed and is continuing to assess the weather as the storms approach Hawaii."

The last time bad weather had a large effect on polling places was after Hurricane Iniki hit on Sept, 11, 1992. The island of Kauai suffered severe damage just eight days before the primary, but the election went on as scheduled.

Former Gov. John Waihee remembers what happened.

"We consolidated sites, we had to come up with new sites entirely, but the voting happened, people went to the polls," Waihee said.

The current Governor, Neil Abercrombie, has the power to postpone the election or delay voting in some precincts that are badly affected by a natural disaster.

Republican Lt. Gov. candidate Warner "Kimo" Sutton wants him to do that.

"I think right now, he should cancel the primary for this day, postpone it until next Saturday, have what may, get the people all safe, let's get ready for a storm, in fact, two storms," Sutton said.

If the governor decides to postpone voting in one area, such as part of the Big Island that could be badly hit by the storm, election officials will still release the results for the rest of the state Saturday night, as scheduled.

"The law says that it doesn't delay the results for the other counties or the other unaffected areas," Nago said.

State law says postponing the election in one part of the state "... shall not affect the conduct of the election, tabulation, or distribution of results for those precincts, districts, or counties not designated for postponement."

Another potential problem for election officials is that 155 of the state's 231 polling places also serve as emergency shelters.

On Hawaii island, which is expected to suffer the brunt of the storm Thursday, 19 of its 40 precincts are designated shelters.

If people have evacuated to those shelters and are still in them on Election Day, they will not be used for voting, Nago said, and voters will be re-directed to other nearby voting sites.

Sixteen of Maui's 34 polling places are potential shelters, while 113 of Oahu's 142 voting sites are shelters and seven of Kauai's 15 polling places are designated shelters.

The last time state election officials shifted a polling place because of a natural disaster was in 2006, following the earthquake that struck the Big Island. One polling place had an unsafe ceiling after the quake, Nago said, so state officials found an alternate voting location.

In 2012, Abercrombie ordered several polling places on Hawaii Island to remain open late during the primary, because of various problems and delays opening those precincts.

Waihee, who is supporting Abercrombie's re-election bid, said no matter what Abercrombie does about the election in response to the storm, he will face criticism.

"Politically, it's a no-win. On the other hand, this is the kind of situation that you get elected knowing might happen," Waihee said. "Politically, it doesn't matter what you do, there is going to be some fallout unless the storm just disappears and we will all be happy."

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