Overtime in Hawaii

Seems an update is appropriate for Hawaii’s Democratic Senate primary, which was supposed to have definitely occurred on August 9. As you may recall, two precincts in the Puna district of the Big Island did not vote on Saturday because of extensive Iselle-related flooding. Election officials initially indicated mail ballots would be accepted for the two precincts for a three-week period. But then they changed up and announced a one-day live voting window for this Friday.

Yesterday Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who trailed Sen. Brian Schatz by just over 1600 votes with the rest of the state’s precincts counted, said she might take legal action to stop the Friday voting in Puna on grounds that the area was still too afflicted to enable a fair opportunity for participation. She had earlier charged somewhat vaguely that the August 9 voting had “irregularities” because other precincts beyond the two in Puna had gone ahead with balloting despite difficult conditions, and hinted she might take legal action on that broader front, too.

While it’s natural to conflate Hanabusa’s two arguments, they have potentially different implications. No matter when or how the two Puna districts vote, they very likely won’t enable her to erase Schatz’s lead; there are only a maximum of 7,000 or so available votes, and Schatz actually won nearby precincts. But a more general challenge to the primary is another matter altogether, and could put the results into the courts.

I can’t recall a cycle in which not one but two statewide primaries spurred legal challenges. But it’s possible Hawaii will join Mississippi in at least a potential limbo. It’s a good thing for Hawaii Democrats that Republicans are not expected to be competitive in the November Senate balloting, because this could get nasty.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.