HILO- More than 8,000 voters in a rural storm-hit area of Hawaii have the power today to end a dramatic U.S. Senate primary, electing their replacement for the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye in a race more competitive in the islands than the general election.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa headed into primary overtime, with 11 hours for residents in two districts on the state's Big Island to make it to an elementary school to vote or turn in absentee ballots. Results are expected tonight even as voters in some places worried more about power outages, blocked roads and basic necessities in the aftermath of a tropical storm last week.
"An election will be held," said Philip Matlage, a local chairman of the Democratic Party for an affected district. "The question is whether anyone knows this will be happening."
A state judge upheld the timing of the makeup primary election Thursday despite a last-minute challenge from Hanabusa, who said the Puna district voters need more time to recover from damage from Tropical Storm Iselle.
Circuit Court Judge Greg Nakamura ruled the election should proceed despite concerns about its legitimacy.
"The court is not supposed to interfere with an ongoing election process," Nakamura said Thursday. But he added: "If you take a popular poll now, the poll would indicate that there's a lack of common sense to hold the election tomorrow."
As he spoke, about 6,300 customers were without electricity on the Big Island, with about 200 utility poles and 130 transformers damaged and needing to be replaced, utility officials said.
Hanabusa trails Schatz by about 1,600 votes and faces a steep challenge to overwhelmingly defeat him in the two precincts and turn out enough voters to make up the deficit.
Hawaii County officials said nearly 1,500 voters in the two precincts cast ballots early, either through the mail or at early walk-in voting sites that were open nearly two weeks before Hawaii's original primary Saturday.
Hanabusa campaign spokesman Peter Boylan said the campaign planned to canvass the precincts and give people rides to the polls if needed.
"We will continue to distribute food, water, fruit and ice to those in need. But we need people to be aware that there is an election tomorrow," Boylan said. "This campaign is not over, and we will continue to work very hard to earn every vote."
Schatz campaign manager Clay Schroers said the senator will continue to focus on helping people recover. "His commitment to recovery in Puna extends beyond the election," Schroers said.
Inouye died in 2012. Schatz was appointed to the seat after Inouye died by Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who lost his own re-election bid last week. Inouye wanted Hanabusa to replace him.
The election planned for today calls for voters to cast ballots at an elementary school, with results to be released later tonight.