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Thursday, September 7, 2000

State of Hawaii

Ineligible voters
likely made honest
errors, official says

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Gov. Ben Cayetano says he will ask Attorney General Earl Anzai to probe deeper into city findings that as many as 543 Oahu voters may ineligible to vote in this fall's elections.

The governor, however, defended the state Office of Elections, which has been criticized by Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Lingle for not playing a larger role in investigating whether there have been any abuses.

Meanwhile, a state representative accused the city of being heavy-handed in its handling of the situation.

Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura, whose office oversees city elections, urged the public not to overreact.

The issue first came to light on Tuesday when Yoshimura and City Clerk Genny Wong announced that a cross-check of voter lists with a list distributed by the office that administers state identification cards found the 500-plus voters stating they weren't U.S. citizens.

Letters sent to questionable voters have netted about 120 responses. About half of those show proof of citizenship while the others request their names be stricken from the rolls and acknowledge not being citizens.

State Chief Election Officer Dwayne Yoshina said some showed proof of citizenship, and some said they honestly thought they were already citizens. Misunderstandings and innocent mistakes are the likely explanation in most cases, Yoshina said yesterday at his Pearl City office. For example, some who came here from American Samoa, a U.S. flag territory, thought their previous residence there made them U.S. citizens, Yoshina said.

Most of the 543 residents in question are on Oahu. If evidence surfaces of any organized effort to register aliens as illegal voters, he would favor legal action, Yoshina said.

But he's not anxious to prosecute aliens who are relatively innocent of willful violations, he said. The whole thing is complicated by privacy laws that make investigative cooperation on such matters difficult between state and federal agencies, Yoshina said.

"Clearly, these significant discrepancies should be investigated and steps taken to ensure against their reoccurrence," Cayetano said in a written release.

But Cayetano made it clear that he doesn't concur with Lingle's criticism on Tuesday that Yoshina should have cross-checked the validity of registered voters immediately after the 1998 elections when questions were raised.

Cayetano said Yoshina's office has worked with the city elections crew since 1998 to find different means of cross-checking voters.

State Rep. Dennis Arakaki (D, Kalihi Valley-Kamehameha Heights) blasted the city for being heavy-handed in its letter and for presuming that the state ID data base is accurate.

"It is a very intimidating and threatening kind of letter," he said.

Arakaki said many of Hawaii's new arrivals are more interested in and excited about the democratic process than Hawaii's natural-born citizens.

Yoshimura, apparently prompted by Lingle's criticism, reiterated that the city's emphasis is not on prosecution but simply ensuring that those ineligible to vote don't do so inadvertently.

"I think we need to tread lightly and be very careful about any investigation," Yoshimura said.

The city, at some point, wants to find out how the illegal registrations came to be, he said, "but at the same time I think it's very important that we don't go on a witch hunt."

He noted that the city's own "cursory" review show "most of these people (registered) inadvertently."

Tin Myaing Thein, executive director for the Pacific Gateway Center, said she backs the city's focus on calling attention to the issue.

Thein said immigrants should not be punished for wanting to participate in the democratic process but not having the proficiency in English to understand that what they were doing was wrong.

Star-Bulletin reporters Richard Borreca and
Harold Morse contributed to this report.

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