Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, February 10, 1999

Recount of 1960
presidential election

WHY are we having such a fuss about recounting the ballots from last year's election? A look back would show that Hawaii is more familiar than most with recounting, even to the extent that our first venture into real presidential politics had to be recounted.

Since 1959 Hawaii has had several district-wide recounts, but in 1960 our first presidential election had to be recounted.

It was a dramatic turn because it reversed our presidential selection from then-Vice President Richard Nixon to Sen. John Kennedy.

The story was a moment of high political drama, recorded by the Star-Bulletin's A.A. Smyser, now its contributing editor.

The campaign for president was remarkable. Smyser recounts that both Kennedy and Nixon came to Hawaii to campaign. We were the nation's newest state.

Early in the campaign Hawaii was Nixon country, as the ILWU, then the state's biggest and most powerful labor union, lined up behind the GOP vice president.

Hawaii at the time had a Republican governor, William Quinn, and a Republican U.S. senator, Hiram Fong.

Hawaii's Democrats had wanted Lyndon Johnson, but the Democrats pulled in their stragglers and worked for Kennedy.

On election day, the vote was Nixon by 141 votes.

The Democrats called for a recount. The state party chairman at the time was William Richardson, later chief justice of the state Supreme Court and Bishop Estate trustee, who has loaned his name to the University of Hawaii law school. Chairman of the Kennedy campaign committee was Herman Lum, who also became a state Supreme Court chief justice.

They were aided by a legal team of Robert Dodge, Seichi Hirai, who became the legendary state Senate clerk, and Alvin Shim, attorney and Democratic party loyalist. Hirai's daughter, Colleen, also became an attorney and is now a state judge.

Democrats started working the numbers and found that out of the 240 precincts, 165 of them had a total of 1,283 unaccounted-for ballots.

As Smyser describes it, the recounting started in Iolani Palace, where the ballots were stored, shifted to the state Transportation Building auditorium and wound up in the judge's courtroom "with most of the furniture shoved to one side, and the judge himself checking precinct tallies on an adding machine."

While the recount was going on, the state's presidential electors were to meet to cast their votes. But which ones should vote -- the Kennedy or Nixon electors? The state decided that both would vote.

The final tally had Kennedy winning by 115 votes. No one ever found out exactly why the vote tally changed, but the GOP accepted it.

The final moment of the drama unfolded as Congress convened with Vice President Nixon as the presiding officer.

WHEN the Electoral College votes from Hawaii were called for, first the three votes for Nixon were presented, then the three votes for Kennedy and finally a note from Quinn asking that the Democratic ballots be accepted.

Congressman Daniel Inouye was poised by a microphone ready to protest if the GOP vote was accepted, but Nixon took the Democratic ballots. And that's how we concluded our first presidential election.

Nearly 40 years of experience and millions of dollars of computers and technology later, we are roughly at the same place.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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