- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Officials are hoping to avoid disruptions in next month’s elections from an advancing lava flow in a mostly rural region on the Big Island of Hawaii.

In August, Tropical Storm Iselle kept some voters in the Puna region from during the polls primary election, and there was subsequent confusion about how they could cast their ballots. Now, a lava flow threatens to isolate some voters ahead of the Nov. 4 general election.

Hawaii County clerk Stewart Maeda told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (https://bit.ly/1DgokP4) the county would wait for an assessment of the lava flow Monday before publicly announcing any revised election plans.

“We don’t want to create confusion, but we want to give notice as early as possible if the potential appears that Highway 130 will be impacted by Election Day,” he said.

Preparations already have been made.

In September, voters in three Puna precincts received absentee ballot applications in case they had to flee, and a special early voting walk-in site opened last week at Nanawale Estates Community Center in Pahoa.

“Everything they can do to get people to vote now is good, and I think they’ve worked hard to do that,” said David Tarnas, chairman of Hawaii County Democrats, who was critical of elections officials after the storm. He said he commended elections officials for their efforts.

State Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, said if the lava hits Highway 130 by Election Day, voters may still be able to reach their precincts or consolidated precincts from emergency access roads.

“I don’t think we’re going to have people isolated, physically unable to vote like we did during Iselle,” he said. “But it’s going to be tremendously inconvenient. And, once again, it will result in a differential on whether you can vote, and how easily you can vote, based on where your precinct is.”

Ruderman, who called for the firing of the state’s chief election officer after Iselle, would have preferred an all-mail election for the Puna precincts in November. He is frustrated with preparations thus far.

“My opinion of the Office of Elections’ responsiveness is something you couldn’t print,” he said.

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, https://www.staradvertiser.com

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