Rep. Colleen Hanabusa Files Lawsuit to Delay Friday Voting in Hawaii Senate Election

Manuel Valdes/AP Photo

The Democratic Senate primary in Hawaii is still too close to call, with the race hinging on two precincts that were unable to vote Saturday amid Tropical Storm Iselle. The election has been rescheduled for Friday, but Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who trails incumbent Sen. Brian Schatz by just more than 1,600 votes, filed a lawsuit today to delay Friday's voting.

The affected precincts are on Hawaii's Big Island and Hanabusa's campaign manager, John Salsbury, said people are still suffering from the clobbering the island got from recent storms.

"People are struggling to get water, to get power. There are limited ways to notify the public and, for the most part, people are still clearing out their homes and driveways and trying to get food, water, ice and generators, just basic necessities." Salsbury told ABC News. "The last thing they care about right now is trying to get to the polls on Friday."

The state has up to 21 days to delay an election and they say that's exactly what the Hanabusa camp wants, Salsbury said, concerned that without power some may not even know about the election being rescheduled for Friday.

"There are still a lot of votes left to be cast and there are still a lot of votes to be counted," Salsbury said. "We are focused on that. … We need to slow down these elections to give people time to recover first."

Salsbury said it's possible the court could rule later today, and Hanabusa has been on the Big Island handing out supplies since Sunday.

Rex Quidilla, a spokesman for chief elections officer Scott Nago, said, as far as officials are concerned, the election is set for Friday. He was not aware of the lawsuit being filed and said he could not comment on it.

There are 8,000 voters in the two districts, and about a fifth of them already cast votes via early voting or absentee balloting. The election is slated to be held at the Keonepoko Elementary School from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time. They expect the results to be released the same evening. That's if it goes on as scheduled.

Unlike other states, Hawaii has no automatic recount or run-off trigger if the vote between Schatz and Hanabusa becomes even closer. Quidilla said a campaign could choose to file an appeal or contest the results with Hawaii's State Supreme Court and a recount could be one of the remedies that are prescribed. But, it's "not a guarantee." They must "prove the results should have been different," in order for the court to allow a recount.

Meaghan Smith, spokeswoman for the Schatz campaign, said the senator's focus is helping people in the Puna area "recover" and the "campaign will be committed and respectful whenever the election is held."

"The Office of Elections or the courts will determine the best way to move forward to maximize voter participation. Sen. Schatz believes that the voters in Puna and across Hawaii must be given fair access to voting," Smith said. "The senator's priority is to help the people of Puna get back on their feet."

The race has been a bruising intra-party brawl. It all started in December 2012, when Sen. Daniel Inouye, who had represented Hawaii for 50 years, passed away. His dying wish was that Gov. Neil Abercrombie appoint his political protégé, Hanabusa, to his seat after he died. That didn't happen. Instead, he appointed his own No. 2, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. Abercrombie maintained Inouye said it was ultimately his decision, but Inouye's widow is backing Hanabusa. Hanabusa decided to challenge Schatz for the Senate and Abercrombie lost his job by a massive margin last Saturday. It was the first time an incumbent ever lost reelection in a primary in the Aloha State.

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