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Sunday, January 22, 2023
Supreme Court: Election Officials moved office furniture instead of ‘curing’ hundreds of invalidated ballots
By Andrew Walden @ 9:40 PM :: 1982 Views :: Office of Elections

by Andrew Walden

The Hawaii Supreme Court is taking a stand against Hawaii election officials’ lackadaisical approach to handling mail-in ballots with invalidated signatures.  According to the Court Opinion in Ahia v Lee, January 20, 2023, the Maui County Clerk prioritized moving office furniture over ‘curing’ hundreds of invalidated ballots. 

Four Justices ruled that the wrongdoing was not enough for Maui Council candidate J Noelani Ahia to overcome her 513-vote November 8, 2022, loss to incumbent Wailuku Councilmember Alice Lee.  A fifth Justice, Michael D Wilson, dissented, urging a re-run of the election, writing:

“…the clerk failed to ‘make reasonable efforts to determine the validity of ballots’ in violation of HRS 11- 108(c)….”

Thousands of absentee voters are disenfranchised every election due to rejection of their ballots by the four county election offices.  If these ballots were cast in person on Election Day, they would be approved or rejected on the spot thus giving the voter a chance to correct any errors in person in real time. 

While rejecting Ahia’s challenge, Justices delivered a spanking to Hawaii election officials.  Here is how the invalidated ballots were handled, according to the Supreme Court’s ‘Findings of Fact’:

9. The crux of Plaintiffs’ complaint was the Clerk’s decision to delay mailing the notice-to-cure to some voters on Saturday, November 12, 2022. At the time the complaint was filed it appears the Plaintiffs did not know exactly how many of the notice-to-cure were mailed on November 12, 2022. Based on the evidence later submitted in this case, it is undisputed that only 215 voters were mailed the notice-to-cure by the Clerk on November 12, 2022. For all 215 of these voters, the Clerk received the ballots by no later than Tuesday, November 8, 2022. Yet the Clerk waited four calendar days, until Saturday, November 12, 2022, to mail the notice-to-cure. 

10. Pursuant to HRS § 11-106, these 215 voters had until Wednesday, November 16, 2022 to correct the deficiency with the ballot or the vote would not be counted.

11. The Clerk gave at least three reasons to explain why the Clerk had to delay mailing the notice-to-cure to these 215 voters by four calendar days. First, on the election day (November 8, 2022) the Clerk’s election officials were providing assistance to voters at the voter service center. Second, on November 9, 2022 and November 10, 2022 the Clerk’s election officials were “dismantling” the voter service center to return the facility to another department of the county, and were also returning rented equipment, dismantling cameras and storing election equipment. Third, on November 11, 2022 the post office was closed because it was a federal holiday. Thus, it was impossible to mail the 215 notices on November 11, 2022.

12. The record establishes that at least some of these 215 voters received the notice-to-cure in the mail on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. Thus, one-day before the deadline to validate the ballot….

The Supreme Court’s ‘Conclusions of Law’ state:

4. As it relates only to the 215 voters who were mailed the notice-to-cure on November 12, 2022, we conclude the Clerk did not make reasonable efforts to determine the validity of these ballots.  It was a mistake for the Clerk to prioritize the breakdown of the voter service center to return the facility to another department of the county and the related activities of returning rented equipment or storing election equipment over providing the notice-to-cure to these 215 voters.

5. We are not persuaded by the Clerk that it was reasonable to prioritize this other work over contacting voters with deficient return identification envelopes. As this court has stated, “The right to vote is perhaps the most basic and fundamental of all the rights guaranteed by our democratic form of government.”  Accordingly, the Clerk should have prioritized completing the specific activities required to protect the voters’ fundamental right to vote.

6. Thus, we find that it was an error to delay mailing the 215 notice-to-cure to voters by four calendar days to November 12, 2022. The notice-to-cure should have been mailed sooner.

---30---

Related:  Maui County Hiring County Clerk, Deputy

Case: SCEC-22-0000707

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