HILO - Remote Hawaii precincts that were closed after a tropical storm clobbered the area will hold balloting Friday, but it's unclear how thousands of voters will find out in time to cast ballots.
The sprawling Puna District could provide the deciding votes in the tight U.S. Senate race between Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. The Democratic primary was too close to call after officials tallied votes over the weekend.
Hanabusa plans to file an injunction to stop Friday's election.
"The real question is, how you are you going to get this information out to the people?" Hanabusa said in an interview. "There's no phone, electricity is at best sparingly coming back, and there's no other form of communication out there, so how are you going go to tell them they're going to have a major election on Friday?"
you going to get this information out to the people?" Hanabusa said in an interview. "There's no phone, electricity is at best sparingly coming back, and there's no other form of communication out there, so how are you going go to tell them they're going to have a major election on Friday?"
Election officials said Tuesday that they were notifying voters by mail and contacting them in other ways. Many in the area, however, remain without power and water and say they have more immediate concerns.
"I ran into a couple good friends in Pahoa town and asked them if they voted, and they looked at me like I was crazy," said Roy Lozano, a chiropractor who was running for a county council seat in a neighboring district.
"It's unconscionable that they're holding the election, even on Friday. People aren't thinking about elections," he said.
Office of Elections spokesman Rex Quidilla said officials are sending letters and relying on the local county clerk to make voters aware. The county clerk's office is putting up banners and handing out fliers to schoolchildren to tell their parents about the vote, said program administrator Pat Matsumoto. Quidilla said the office was assured by Hawaii Civil Defense, Hawaii County and the attorney general's office that voters would be able to get to polling places.
"We wanted to run the election and bring an end to the primary election for the state of Hawaii," Quidilla said. "We were relying on information provided to us (by) what we thought was a good source."
In Hawaiian Paradise Park, a rural development where hundreds of albizia trees damaged homes and downed power lines, mailboxes were destroyed and those who were able went driving around to charge cellphones in their cars.
About 6,800 residents remained without power in the Puna area Tuesday, according to Hawaiian Electric Co.
"There are pockets throughout the region where the damage is so severe that customers should be prepared for an extended outage," the company said in a statement.
Hanabusa surveyed the damage by helicopter and saw devastation in towns like Kapoho where the polls were open Saturday. Voters there aren't getting a second chance to vote.
"You could see the homes off the foundations near the ocean, and that area was also expected to vote," Hanabusa said.
Hanabusa trails Schatz by 1,635 votes, facing an uphill climb, so she could benefit from more time to win over voters.
Schatz's campaign spokeswoman, Meaghan Smith, said the experts at the Office of Elections and the county clerk on the Big Island are "in a far better position to evaluate how to proceed with this election than anyone else."
Residents in the Puna District say they've been neglected, and not just about the elections. They say they've been restoring order to neighborhoods using their own chain saws and equipment to clear fallen trees.
"This is a disaster," Pascual Aguilar said. "We don't rely on government agencies to help. We do it ourselves. You don't see much of any help."
Aguilar worked with a crew to repair an oceanfront home after massive waves climbed over a 25-foot cliff, throwing boulders across the property and into the house, and leaving a gaping hole in the lava cliff.
Voter turnout dropped more sharply on the Big Island than the rest of the state, even excluding the closed precincts, according to an Associated Press analysis of election data.
There was a staggering drop of nearly 24 percent in turnout on the Big Island on Election Day, even though voter registration in the precincts that were allowed to vote was up 5 percent. Turnout overall on the Big Island dropped nearly 8 percent in places allowed to vote, even though absentee turnout rose almost 6 percent, about on pace with registration.