Election officials prep for lava

Hawaii County and state election workers are preparing for the possibility that voting could again be disrupted in lower Puna as a lava flow continues to advance toward populated areas.

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Hawaii County and state election workers are preparing for the possibility that voting could again be disrupted in lower Puna as a lava flow continues to advance toward populated areas.

Election officials say they identified 7,542 voters in three precincts from Ainaloa to Kalapana who could have difficulty voting during the Nov. 4 General Election should the June 27 lava flow continue its long march to the sea.

They are essentially the same voters, minus the precinct covering Hawaiian Paradise Park, who had voting disrupted during the Aug. 9 primary because of damage from Tropical Storm Iselle.

During that disaster, voting in two Puna precincts was delayed, and the state Office of Elections received much criticism for its response. Chief Election Officer Scott Nago said his office is using the time it has to prepare and make accommodations for voters, even if they have to relocate.

“This is a little different” than the primary, he said. “We have a lot of lead time.”

Still, anticipating the path of lava can be difficult. Another issue is that some voters might have evacuated by the time Election Day nears.

There are three polling places serving lower Puna — two in Pahoa and one at Keonepoko Elementary School near Hawaiian Beaches and Hawaiian Shores. Each could potentially be in the flow’s path.

Polling places could be consolidated if one or more become unavailable, Nago said.

County Clerk Stewart Maeda said the county is looking at setting up an early walk-in voting site for the precincts outside harm’s way, possibly in Nanawale Estates.

Walk-in voting begins Oct. 21.

The state and county also will encourage residents to vote absentee, especially if they have to relocate.

As early as this week, or possibly next week, the county will send letters to lower Puna voters asking them to notify officials if they plan to change their address, Maeda said. It also will be accompanied by an absentee voter application.

With an absentee ballot, residents can vote early and have their ballot sent to any address, whether or not it’s in their precinct.

Even that option might have its challenges, depending on what the flow does and where voters are located.

“We realize it might be difficult for them to get their mail,” Maeda said.

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“We do not know what the Postal Service will look like.”

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

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