Polling place to open in Pahoa on election day

HILO — Lower Puna residents displaced by the ongoing Kilauea eruption will be able to cast a ballot on primary election day.

The state Office of Elections announced Friday that a consolidated polling place for voters in precincts 04-03 and 04-04 will be held at the Pahoa Community Center for the Aug. 11 primary.

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Early walk-in voting also will be provided at that location from July 30-Aug. 9.

The office previously said polling places for those precincts would be closed because of the eruption on Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone, with residents instead having to vote by mail absentee.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii threatened a lawsuit if a polling place wasn’t provided. Friday was the deadline for the state to respond.

“This is a great development for the voters of Hawaii Island,” ACLU Hawaii Executive Director Joshua Wisch said in a statement. “We applaud these officials and their teams for making it happen and are pleased to help spread the word.”

The elections office said in a press release that the decision is in response to the eruption stabilizing. Officials previously said the decision to send ballots to voters early was made to avoid confusion later since it wasn’t known how far the eruption would spread.

Eileen O’Hara, a Hawaii County councilwoman who represents eastern Puna, said she was glad to see the office change its mind as the eruption stabilizes.

“I think we should be providing every opportunity for the affected population to vote … and I’m very glad they are deciding to open a polling place,” said O’Hara, who is running for re-election.

She said she was concerned displaced voters didn’t know they needed to update their mailing addresses so that they could get a ballot and that many have other things to worry about after losing their homes.

Pat Nakamoto, Hawaii County elections administrator, said mail to inaccessible or destroyed homes was being delivered to the Pahoa Post Office unless another address was provided.

State Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, Ka‘u, and state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, D-Puna, sent a letter to the elections office requesting the state open a polling place. A representative of O’Hara also signed the letter.

Ballots to the 6,070 affected voters were mailed late last month.

The polling place will be open for voters in both of the affected precincts.

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The precincts incorporate Leilani Estates, Nanawale Estates, Kapoho, Kalapana, Pahoa village, Ainaloa and a portion of Orchidland Estates.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.