As Hawaii readies for its primary elections, voters are grappling with an erupting volcano and Hurricane Hector. Elections are challenging times for candidates even in the best of circumstances. But Big Island politicians frequently have extra adversity, given they live on top of one of the world’s most active volcanoes and in the general vicinity of hurricanes that barrel through the central Pacific Ocean many summers. The island has a history of nature-related election disruptions: In 2014, Tropical Storm Iselle forced the same two precincts hit hardest by Kilauea volcano to close the day of the primary. The state Office of Elections organized a makeup election day for the two precincts six days later.
This year, the disruption is possibly broader, as lava from Kilauea volcano has destroyed more than 700 homes since May and upended the local economy.
Many voters have left the island after losing their homes and jobs. Or they’re struggling to keep their businesses afloat because tourism has dropped dramatically.
“People are still scrambling. They’re still in a bit of shock,” said Eileen O’Hara, a county councilwoman who is running for re-election. “Their attention is not focused on the election.”