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In Hawaii, Storm-Battered Area Becomes A Kingmaker

Most of Hawaii voted last Saturday in the contentious Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. The result? Sen. Brian Schatz appeared to win by a slim 1,635-vote advantage over Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

But there was a complication.

Two precincts on the Big Island's far eastern tip were unable to vote due to damage from Tropical Storm Iselle. Since those precincts could provide the margin of victory in such a razor-close race, voters in the Puna area will settle the election Friday when they cast their ballots.

The kingmaking role is an unlikely one for Puna. It's a place where you can still snag a reasonable deal on a beach house — both because of its remoteness and because of the threat of creeping lava flows and earthquakes. But it's located far from the Honolulu metropolitan area on Oahu, home to more than two-thirds of Hawaii voters, and residents often feel overlooked.

Friday's vote almost didn't happen: Hanabusa filed an injunction Wednesday against the Hawaii Elections Office in a bid to postpone it, citing the difficulties of holding an election in a recovering community just a week after the storm. But a Hawaii court rejected Hanabusa's effort to delay the vote.

In any case, the electoral math is working against Hanabusa. The two precincts that will vote Friday are home to 8,255 registered voters — some of whom mailed in their ballots before the official Aug. 9 primary. That means Hanabusa will likely need to win about two-thirds of the uncounted votes to overcome her current shortfall against Schatz, the senator appointed in December 2012 after the death of Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye.

As Hawaii News Now noted, Puna's other two precincts, which were able to vote on Aug. 9, went narrowly for Schatz.

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