HILO, Hawaii — Hawaii officials aim to open a primary election day polling place in the Big Island district hit hardest by Kilauea volcano’s months-long eruption.
Chief Election Officer Scott Nago told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald his office was in the process of establishing the spot in Pahoa town for the Aug. 11 primary.
Last month, after the eruption destroyed hundreds of homes, Nago said voters in two precincts would only be able to vote by absentee ballot. He said there would be no in-person voting on the day of the election for these two precincts in the Puna district.
But that move came under criticism from U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a candidate for governor, local lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii.
Nago said Thursday he said the eruption has changed, enabling the state to adjust plans.
“We’re in contact with Civil Defense, we understand the situation has stabilized,” Nago said Thursday.
The polling place would be a joint location for the two precincts. Nago said a location hadn’t been selected yet but he was “pretty confident” it would happen.
Voters in the precincts — which include Leilani Estates and Kapoho among other neighborhoods — will still be able to cast their ballots during early walk-in voting at Pahoa Community Center from July 30 to Aug. 9.
The ACLU had threatened to sue, and sent the state a letter saying a “refusal to allow in-person registration and voting on election day would not only be arbitrary and unnecessary, but would also not survive constitutional muster.”
Nago said efforts to open a polling place on primary election day weren’t in response to the letter.
“It was something we were always looking at doing,” he said. “The letter just came at the time the letter came.”
Nago also said that announcing early on that voting in the two precincts would be done by absentee mail only was the right call at the time.
Hawaii County elections administrator Pat Nakamoto said ballots to the 6,070 affected voters were mailed last week and 48 had been returned by Thursday. Absentee mail ballots for other precincts will be mailed July 17.
Nakamoto said voters may still use walk-in voting sites if they were mailed an absentee ballot. Voters can use any early walk-in site around the county but must use their designated polling place on primary election day.
Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/