Gabbard calls for another election delay; officials explain Maui ballot snafu

Gabbard calls for another election delay; officials explain Maui ballot snafu
U.S. Rep Tulsi Gabbard
U.S. Rep Tulsi Gabbard
Maave Bola
Maave Bola
Scott Nago
Scott Nago

PUNA, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard who was in Puna watching voting Friday, called on the governor and election officials to further delay voting for other Big Island residents who couldn't vote because of the storm.

Maave Bola, a resident from Nanawale, wanted to vote at Keonepoko Elementary School Friday but was turned away because she lived outside the district.

She said she was unable to vote Saturday because debris from the storm blocked her from getting to her polling place, but only voters in two specific precincts were able to vote in Puna Friday.

Gabbard called on Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the Office of Elections to delay the elections further so others elsewhere on the Big Island who couldn't vote because of the storm can still cast their vote.

"They thought they had the chance to go and exercise their right to vote today and they were turned away at the door told by, really bureaucrats that they weren't in the right place so they couldn't exercise their democratic right to vote," Gabbard told Hawaii News Now.

Political analyst Colin Moore, a political science professor at UH Manoa, said extending the vote further would create chaos.

"At some point, elections have to be over. We have to end the campaign and move on. I think this was an appropriate decision, as much as I understand their frustration," Moore said.

The final printout released Friday included 800 votes that went uncounted from Maui County on Saturday night. It was the last electronic card loaded into the computer on Maui but never transmitted to Honolulu, according to Scott Nago, the state's chief election officer.

"Fortunately, when we do our audits, we found that those ballots were not transferred and that's how we found it," Nago said.

Nago said no electronic data were lost.

"No, that card was always under seal, they were added in after we had the seal, so they were always under seal," Nago said.

The new Maui results did not change the outcomes of any races.

In the U. S. Senate race, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz slightly improved his lead over U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, to more than 1,700 votes, up from the 1,635 lead he had late Saturday. But he won the race by less than one percent.

"I'm not surprised," said Moore, the political scientist. "I mean, Brian Schatz did show that he won the other precincts in Puna, Puna does have the demographics that would show they would support, probably Brian Schatz. I think this is what everyone was expecting, that Schatz would win."

Turnout in the two Puna districts was a little more than 3,000 voters, roughly 36 percent of the eligible voters there, which is just under the statewide turnout of 41 percent.

The Puna district has a lot of aging hippies, as well as papaya farmers, fishermen and other people who have very little interest in government. The population in the area has more than doubled since 1990. Almost one-third of the residents there live in poverty.

According to the U.S. Census Office, about 36 percent of the people in the Puna district are Caucasians, something that clearly helped Schatz at the polls today. He's the first haole to represent Hawaii in the U.S. Senate since Oren Long.

Schatz did best in districts with large percentages of haole voters, such as Kailua on Oahu where he got 64 percent of the vote, Makena-Wailea on Maui where Schatz won about 62 percent and North Kona and Waimea on the Big Island, where Schatz took 60 percent of the vote.

For Hanabusa, who is Japanese-American the demographics of the Puna area were not in her favor. Not only is there a high percentage of haoles but the number of Japanese-Americans in the Puna district is only about three or four percent. She did well in places with large populations of Japanese voters, getting 56 percent of the cote in Pearl City and Waimalu on Oahu and 54 percent of the vote in the Aiea-Halawa area.

Election officials said this six-day delay in voting in these two precincts -- which is the first time there's been such a delay in state history -- gave Big Island voters enough time to recover from the tropical storm that blocked roadways and damaged homes and businesses in the Puna area.

Election officials didn't want to discount the destruction and suffering on the Big Island caused by last week's tropical storm.

But they pointed out that the primary election in 1992 was held with no delays, just eight days after the strongest hurricane ever to strike Hawaii. That was Hurricane Iniki, a category 4 hurricane with winds up to 145 miles per hour that destroyed about 1,500 homes on Kauai. The voting went on as scheduled, with Kauai residents voting in tents and consolidated precincts even as many people still had no electricity and many of them were dealing with damage to their homes.

That year there was a U.S. Senate race as the late Dan Inouye was up for re-election. But there was no close primary race on the Democratic side. Inouye beat Maui County Councilman Wayne Nishiki with 73 percent of the vote to Nishiki's 23 percent to win the Democratic nomination.

In the 1992 general election, Inouye would go on to beat Republican challenger Rick Reed, a former Maui County councilman who had been an aide to the late Honolulu city prosecutor Charles Marsland. Inouye won that race with 54 percent of the vote, while Reed got less than half that, 26 percent.

Schatz is expected to beat realtor Cam Cavasso, a Republican, in the general election in November. If Schatz is victorious, he will be elected to the remaining two years of the late Senator Dan Inouye's term.

At age 41, Schatz is the second-youngest member of the Senate, after Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who's 10 months younger than Schatz.

Schatz will remain Hawaii's senior senator, even though he's a couple of decades younger than Hawaii's other U.S. Senator, Mazie Hirono , who's 66.

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