The storm-beaten Puna District could decide the fate of Hawaii’s open U.S. Senate seat.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa were locked in a dead heat late Saturday night in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary election, and the race was too close to call.
With all but two precincts reporting, Schatz was leading Hanabusa by a mere 1,788 votes, a margin of less than 1 percent.
Puna resident Brian Evans, possibly playing the role of spoiler for one of the candidates, garnered 4,424 votes, or about 2 percent.
Overall, there were more than 214,ooo votes cast in the race.
But two precincts on the Big Island have not yet voted because of damage from Tropical Storm Iselle. Hanabusa said voters there must feel great because they’ll probably get to decide the election.
Election officials announced Friday that the polls at the Hawaiian Paradise Park Community Center and Keonepoko Elementary School would be closed because of downed trees on roadways.
The closure of the two Puna polling places caused some confusion Saturday as affected voters tried to cast ballots at Pahoa High School instead but were turned away.
Voters in the two affected precincts, which include about 8,000 registered voters, are expected to receive a mail absentee ballot.
County Clerk Stewart Maeda said he received some complaints about the closed polling places, but noted the state and county did the best they could to notify voters in the storm-ravaged areas.
He said he will speak with state election officials Monday to work out a plan for mailing ballots to the affected voters who did not vote absentee already.
“We want to get that going as soon as possible,” Maeda said.
Law requires the voting process to be complete 21 days after the primary election.
Maeda said the state chose to not consolidate polling places since many voters might not be able to make it anyway because of the storm damage.
The often-bitter primary battle between Schatz and Hanabusa is about who will replace U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. It’s the first vote for the seat since the beloved political icon died in 2012 and Schatz was appointed as his replacement.