Isle high court will arbitrate any dispute over mail-in vote


POSTED: Sunday, May 16, 2010

If the special election for Hawaii's vacant congressional seat ends in a neck-and-neck finish, there's only one entity in the state that can handle electoral complaints or recount demands: the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Hawaii law funnels all such objections to Chief Justice Ronald T.Y. Moon and four associate justices, with no stop beforehand at lower courts.

The law could come into play if, for example, the election results are close or there's a challenge to procedures used by the state Office of Elections to validate ballots.

The three major candidates vying for the 1st Congressional District seat are Republican Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou and two Democrats, former U.S. Rep. Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. Eleven other lesser-known contenders also are running.

There are no legal precedents that would necessarily lead the court to grant a recount if the contest is tight, said Jon Van Dyke, a University of Hawaii law school professor.

“;But my guess is, if it's that close, they probably would say, 'Let's make sure we've got the right winner,'”; he added.






        Former Gov. John Waihee declared his support for 1st Congressional District candidate Colleen Hanabusa at a campaign rally and news conference yesterday.


Speaking to Hanabusa supporters, Waihee noted that he was behind in the polls in his 1986 race for governor.


“;The race is not over until all the votes are counted,”; Waihee said. “;Don't give up.”;


Polls show Republican City Councilman Charles Djou ahead of leading Democrats Hanabusa and Ed Case. About 38 percent of the ballots mailed to registered voters already had been returned as of last week.


Waihee and former governors Ben Cayetano, a Case supporter, and George Ariyoshi are scheduled to hold a news conference today to urge Democrats to vote in the special election for Congress.


Star-Bulletin staff


State laws that govern electoral challenges require a candidate, political party or group of 30 voters to file a complaint with the Supreme Court no later than 20 days after the election.

The court can invalidate an election “;on the grounds that a correct result cannot be ascertained because of a mistake or fraud”; by precinct officials, the statute says. Justices also can “;decide that a certain candidate, or certain candidates, received a majority or plurality of votes cast and were elected.”;

The last big election snafu in Hawaii was 12 years ago, when voting equipment malfunctions at seven precincts prodded the Legislature to call for a recount of the entire general election, said Rex Quidilla, spokesman for the state Office of Elections.

No one is predicting a mess like that on May 22. But a mail-in special congressional election is still unique in Hawaii, even though the City and County of Honolulu conducted two mail-in special elections for City Council seats last year. So unique problems could crop up.

For example, one potential hang-up could revolve around ballots that are deemed invalid because voters wrote a check mark or an “;X”; in the box to denote their choice—despite instructions that tell voters to completely fill in the box.

Quidilla said agency rules prevent elections officials from divining the intent of a voter who does anything but fill in the box.

Still, a close race might lead one or more candidates to call on the court to decide whether invalid ballots should be counted, Burke said.

“;If it winds up being close, then you have a bunch of voter intent issues, particularly the way that ballot is,”; he said.

Also, voters are required to sign an envelope—which contains the completed ballot inside a smaller envelope—before mailing it back. Election officials then compare those signatures with signatures on voter registration forms.

“;Yeah, you have a signature on file,”; said Jason Burke, with the Case campaign. “;But we don't have ... handwriting experts in there, so that might wind up being a problem.”;