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Saturday, November 18, 2000

Star-Bulletin file photo
Democratic attorney Robert G. Dodge instructs the Democratic
electors from Hawaii on how to cast their electoral ballots in the
1960 presidential election. Sitting at the table, from left to right,
are electors Delbert Metzger, Jennie Wilson and William H. Heen.
Standing directly behind the table are alternate electors Ernest Uuu,
left, and John B. Fernandes.

Hawaii was
the ‘Florida’ of
1960 election

New state's electoral votes
went to Nixon first, and
then to Kennedy

By Burl Burlingame

FOR older Hawaii voters, Florida's presidential-election problems may have a familiar ring.

The 1960 race here in the islands -- the first election Hawaii faced as a state -- made Electoral College history when Hawaii elected one president, then reversed itself during a bitter recount, forcing two different sets of electoral delegates to cast votes.

In 1960, the Electoral College consisted of 537 members, of which Hawaii had three. The majority to win was 269 votes.

The initial results of the Nov. 8 election that year showed Vice President Richard Nixon 141 votes ahead of Sen. John Kennedy in Hawaii, and so the new state's three electoral votes were officially cast with Nixon.

The Hawaii vote, however, was so close that a recount was inevitable. Both parties made charges of voter fraud, although a court investigation later showed no evidence of tampering. Electors nationwide were scheduled to cast their ballots on Dec. 19 that year, but the Hawaii recount was still under way when the date approached. Hawaii's Republican electors cast votes that day for Nixon, and one minute later, Democratic electors cast their three votes for Kennedy.

Although the Hawaii attorney general's office declared that the only "official" electoral votes would go to Nixon, and that the Hawaii recount itself would need a recount if results showed Kennedy ahead, Gov. William Quinn -- a Republican -- notified Congress that Hawaii's votes were Republican.

The recount was completed by Christmas, and showed Kennedy carrying Hawaii by 115 votes. The Circuit Court ruled that Hawaii's three electoral votes should go to the Democrats, but the governor's office waffled on making the proper notifications. By the time it was decided that a new certificate was necessary, only two days remained before Congress convened on Jan. 6, 1961 and a letter to Congress saying a certificate was on the way was rushed out by registered air mail.

It arrived in time. In the congressional roll call of delegate votes, Hawaii went to Kennedy when Nixon decided not to contest the reversed vote.

At the time, the House and Senate parliamentarians said the only complaint received about the reversed vote was from the National Press Club, which had a $600 wager riding on the final Electoral College number.

Unlike the current election, Hawaii's three votes would not have made a difference. The final tally was 303 for Kennedy, 219 for Nixon and 15 for Harry Byrd of West Virginia.

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