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ACLU Demands Polling Place for Pāhoa Voters

July 3, 2018, 12:44 PM HST (Updated July 3, 2018, 12:47 PM)
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Big Island Now file photo.

The ACLU of Hawai‘i Foundation (ACLU of Hawai’i) issued a demand letter on Friday, June 29, 2018, to the Hawai‘i Office of Elections.

The letter, written by ACLU of Hawai’i Legal Director Mateo Caballero, vows swift legal action if the “severe burden on the right to vote” imposed by the Office of Elections’ current voting plans for areas of Hawai‘i Island affected by the eruption of Kilauea Volcano are not fixed. As noted in the ACLU of Hawai’i demand letter, a “refusal to allow in-person registration and voting on election day would not only be arbitrary and unnecessary but would also not survive constitutional muster.”

ACLU of Hawai’i Executive Director Joshua Wisch said: “Hundreds of families in Leilani Estates, Pāhoa, Kapoho and surrounding areas have lost their homes. But the Office of Elections is only planning to let these people vote by absentee ballot—ballots that will likely be sent to the same homes that have either been destroyed by lava or are uninhabitable due to volcanic activity. The Office of Elections must provide a polling place for these folks to register and vote in person on election day, as provided by law.”

In 2015, Hurricane Iselle struck on the eve of the primary, impacting the people of Pāhoa. In its aftermath, voters had to contend with shifting direction from the Office of Elections about where and how to vote. These same precincts saw some of the lowest turnout ever, even as the ACLU was in touch with residents who wanted to vote but did not know how. The ACLU of Hawai‘i asked the Hawai‘i Supreme Court to hold primary election results so that these districts could property vote, but the Supreme Court denied this request without reaching the merits of the complaint. Later efforts to get the legislature to require better disaster response from the Office of Elections to protect the vote failed.

Legal Director Mateo Caballero said: “The right to vote is fundamental. We ask anyone who thinks their voting rights may be affected to contact our office and let us know.”

The ACLU of Hawai‘i has given the Office of Elections until July 6 to respond to the demand letter.

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