ACLU sues state over primary election

ACLU sues state over primary election
Published: Aug. 21, 2014 at 7:55 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 22, 2014 at 1:43 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii Thursday filed a legal challenge to the primary election with the Hawaii Supreme Court on behalf of voters in the Puna area of the Big Island who couldn't vote in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Iselle.

Dozens of Big Island voters were turned away from the two Puna-area polling places that re-opened last Friday to allow late voting because of the storm.

They lived in other areas where polling places opened during the Saturday primary election, even though many of them said downed trees and debris kept them from voting.

"I just couldn't get out. The roads were blocked," said Kathryn Murphy of Nanawale.

Murphy said when election officials would not allow her to vote last Friday it was "quite a surprise. And I don't know quite what to say or do about it."

"We come for vote, we get the chance to come for vote. This is our chance to hear our voice. But now they say we cannot," said an angry Maave Bola, another Nanawale resident. "This is bull----! It's not right, because we wanna hear our voice."

The ACLU is suing the state and asking the Hawaii Supreme Court to allow Big Island voters who couldn't vote because of the storm to cast votes that will be included in the primary results.

"We're asking for an opportunity for our clients to cast their ballots, to exercise their fundamental right to vote," said Daniel Gluck, ACLU of Hawaii senior staff attorney. "These are all individuals who tried to vote on Election Day but physically could not, were not able to make it to the polls."

Puna State Sen. Russell Ruderman said Nanawale Estates -- where several thousand people live -- was almost completely blocked during the Saturday primary and residents there had no way to get to their polling place on August 9.

"Obviously we can't extend elections for small reasons, but this is a pretty large reason. It's people hit hardest by the storm in large numbers that never had a chance to vote," Ruderman said.

Ruderman was not up for re-election this year.

A group of Puna voters filed a hand-written declaration with the Supreme Court Thursday saying they should be given another chance.

"I had no ability to travel due to an Ohia on top of my car and had to be chained saw off," wrote Aiko Aiyana of Bamboo Drive in Pahoa in her declaration.

Ina Campbell of Kapoho wrote "I had no cell phone/no land line/no food refrigeration/no computer access. No access out of my road to town!!"

The ACLU said hundreds and perhaps thousands of Big Island residents were disenfranchised.

"It may or may not impact the results of any one election, but the act of casting a ballot is what's really important," Gluck said.

The state Supreme Court -- which decides election disputes -- could decline to take the case, could decide based on written briefs from all sides or could allow lawyers to argue their case in court before rendering a decision.

The state has to finalize the results of the primary election by Sept. 20.

The suit names Gov. Neil Abercrombie, state Attorney General David Loui, Chief Election Officer Scott Nago and Hawaii County Clerk Stewart Maeda as defendants.

Spokesmen for Abercrombie and Nago declined comment, as is their practice in lawsuits.

Numerous people in the Puna area said they were unable to vote on primary Election Day, Saturday, Aug. 9, because downed trees and debris blocked their driveways and streets.

After consulting with civil defense and county clerk officials on the Big Island, Nago closed two Puna precincts on Election Day, because roads to those polling places were impassable the day after the storm.

Only people who lived in those two precincts, near Keonepoko Elementary and the Hawaiian Paradise Park Community Center, were allowed to vote in a delayed election on Friday, Aug. 15.

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