The rematch in the race for Honolulu’s City Council District 4 seat has become even more contentious as the two candidates trade accusations and make counterclaims.
A mail-in ballot special election is being held through
April 13 to decide whether Trevor Ozawa or Tommy
Waters will represent the
Hawaii Kai-to-Ala Moana district after the Hawaii Supreme Court invalidated the November election results that put Ozawa ahead by 22 votes. In their unanimous order, the justices said city elections officials should not have counted ballots retrieved from a post office after the 6 p.m. voting deadline.
The Supreme Court challenge was brought by Waters and, separately, a group of
39 voters represented by attorney Thomas Otake, who on Wednesday criticized Ozawa for putting out what he called “an unethical false mailer” to voters in the district.
Ozawa, in response, said Otake was arguing semantics and the flyer only sought to
reiterate the argument made
by the clerk’s office and his
own attorney that all the votes counted were properly counted.
Otake, in a press release, said Ozawa “sent out a mailer this past weekend providing false information” about facts that were established during the court proceedings that led to the invalidation.
Ozawa’s mailer said the last batch of absentee ballots that pushed him over the top “was received by the post office
BEFORE the 6:00 p.m. deadline and SCANNED into the the City Clerk’s computers BEFORE 6:00 p.m.”
City officials told the court the ballots in question were not picked up until
6:30 and 7:30 p.m., Otake said.
The Supreme Court’s decision was “based in large part on the ballots being received after the 6:00 p.m. deadline by the City Clerk, in violation of Hawaii State law,” Otake said.
City attorneys, representing the Office of the City Clerk’s Elections Division, never disputed in court that votes were counted after
6 p.m., and argued only that they believed it was OK to count them after 6 p.m. because they had an arrangement with the United States Postal Service to set them aside for pickup.
Ozawa, as an active party in the court proceedings, should have been aware that “his statement to voters in this mailer was false,” Otake said. “This is a clear breach of ethics and professional responsibility.”
Ozawa said in an email that the city clerk’s office was allowed by the state for more than 20 years “to pick up ballots from the office
after 6 p.m. on the basis
that the post office was
the city clerk’s designated representative.”
Working with the post office, the clerk’s office “took the position that the ballots containing my 22-vote winning margin were timely
received by the statutory deadline,” Ozawa said. “My flyer was made on this basis.”
Asked about the specific language in the mailer, Ozawa said, “I think it’s a semantics issue but the intent of the mailer was to summarize … the city clerk’s position on the process at the post office and what happened in the lawsuit.”
When asked if the ballots that led to Ozawa’s win were scanned before 6 p.m, the city’s elections administrator, Rex Quidilla, said, “We don’t know how anyone could conclude that.”
Waters, in a statement, said, “It’s clear that the mailer stating ballots were scanned by 6 p.m. is false and an attempt to mislead voters.”
The clash came a week
after Civil Beat editor Patti Epler criticized Ozawa for sending out a separate mailer attributing false statements to the online news outlet.
Epler blasted Ozawa for a mailer with a quote critical of Waters under the Civil Beat logo, making it appear that Civil Beat was the source of the quote. Epler,
in a Behind the Story commentary, said the quote attributed to the news site “was nowhere in any Civil Beat story. Ever.”
Ozawa, in an emailed response to Epler, apologized “for any confusion, the quote attribution and layout in this mailer were done incorrectly.” He cited a Civil Beat story that ran on a different day that he said should have run in the mailer.
“The intent of this mailer was to indicate that I have pledged to vote against any use of real property taxes to fund rail, while Waters continues to avoid any commitment against using real property taxes to complete the project,” Ozawa said.
In related news, the clerk’s office sought to ease concerns raised by voters in recent days after more than 63,000 ballots were mailed out to District 4 voters last week.
The concerns involved oddities including a voter who received two ballots, one who said a ballot arrived for a deceased family member, one from a man who said he never registered to vote and one from
a man who said a ballot was sent to his 30-year-old son who left Hawaii 15 years ago.
Quidilla told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the complaints were raised only with the news media and that he would need the specifics of the cases to determine what happened.
The 1993 National Voters Registration Act bars local governments from striking voters off their rolls for inactivity alone. Elections officials will only remove voters from the rolls if they are notified that the voter has moved or died.
Even when ballots are returned by the postal service due to non-delivery, the elections office will send a letter that can be forwarded to ask if the registrant still lives at the same address and still wants to be registered, Quidilla said.
When ballots are returned, he said, safeguards are in place to prevent fraudulent voting. Most notably, his staff verifies the signatures from the mailed-in envelopes with the signatures the agency has on file,
Complaints of ballots being sent to people who have died or moved are common nationwide, he said.
“It’s understandable there are more occurrences” of ballots being sent to people no longer at an address in this election because it’s
being conducted in an “all mail” fashion, which requires that all registered
voters be mailed the ballots. That increases the likelihood that ballots are being sent to people no longer living at an address because in more standard elections, only voters who request absentee mail-in ballots get them, Quidilla said.
More than 63,000 ballots were mailed out last week. At the close of business Wednesday, the clerk’s office received 9,755 ballot envelopes back. Quidilla said that doesn’t include about 2,000 “return to sender” pieces that showed up because they were undeliverable.
In the 2018 general election, 39,613 ballots were cast in District 4. In the primary, 28,962 ballots were tallied.