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Teachers will be casting ballots for union leadership for the third time this year after the Hawaii State Teachers Association Board voted Saturday night to toss out the results of its recent elections because of unspecified voting “irregularities.”
The board’s decision came the day after votes were due in a runoff for vice president, and was the second time this month that the board opted not to certify and reveal election results, causing numerous teachers to take to Facebook over the weekend to vent their frustrations, some using the hashtag “tellusnow.”
In a statement emailed early Sunday — just after midnight, HSTA Executive Director Wilbert Holck said the board decided to “redo elections for all races,” because of “irregularities in the voting process.”
“I have never seen anything like this,” former HSTA Vice President Karolyn Mossman said of the board’s decision. “I’m concerned for the organization’s credibility.”
But former HSTA Executive Director Joan Husted said the decision to call for a new election required a two-thirds vote of the board, which has more than two dozen members in addition to the current president and vice president.
The union presidency is not a dictatorship where that person can say, “I don’t like the election results” and have them thrown out, Husted said.
Union members cast their votes from April 13 to 24 for the positions of president, vice president and secretary-treasurer.
The release of results for the election — which pitted current union leaders against a set of teachers known for making waves — was delayed in early May when none of the candidates for vice president received more than 50 percent of the vote.
Vying for the union’s top spot were HSTA Vice President Joan Lewis and Corey Rosenlee, a teacher who represents the Leeward Chapter on the HSTA Board of Directors. Current president Wil Okabe, who has held the position since 2009, is term-limited out.
Lewis has been in the news for her role last month in helping negotiate a 1.8 percent salary increase and a lump payment of $2,000 for each full-time teacher. Rosenlee is perhaps best known for organizing the Work to Rule protests, which made national headlines in 2012.
The candidates in the runoff for vice president were Colleen Pasco and Justin Hughey. Pasco, an English language arts teacher at Kohala High School and current secretary-treasurer for the union, campaigned with Lewis. Hughey, a special education teacher from Maui, ran on a “Hawaii Teachers for Change” platform with Rosenlee.
Amy Perruso, a social studies teacher at Mililani High School, ran for secretary treasurer on the same platform as Rosenlee, and Osa Tui Jr., a registrar at McKinley High School campaigned with Lewis for the same slot.
Although the board received the vote tallies before the meeting, according to HSTA rules election results are confidential until certified, Rosenlee said. Because the board voted not to certify the election, the results are to remain a mystery.
In an email sent to supporters Saturday night, however, secretary-treasurer candidate Tui said he had received fewer votes in the first round than Perruso.
“On Sunday, May 3, the day after I saw the initial results, I informed the appropriate HSTA staff and officers that should the Board decide for any reason to not certify the election, I should then be considered as withdrawn from the race,” Osa stated in the email, adding that he wished Perruso the best as the union’s next secretary-treasurer.
Rosenlee said that at the board meeting — which lasted more than 12 hours — he voted to certify the election results and not hold another election. According to a press release issued by Rosenlee and his fellow candidates, Lewis and Pasco voted in favor of a new election.
Pasco did not return a request for comment. Lewis referred questions to HSTA representatives.
“I am disappointed that we have to have a new election. I felt the first election was fair,” Roselee said, adding that he believes teachers deserve to know what the results were.
Although HSTA officials declined to reveal details of the election irregularities, Rosenlee said the board received complaints from some teachers that there had been a problem with emails and they never received an electronic ballot.
According to Holck, the union’s executive director, the board will develop a new voting process and will inform members when details are finalized. The union declined to disclose any additional information about the nature or extent of the irregularities.
Civil Beat reached out via email to more than 20 board members Sunday, but received responses only from Rosenlee, and two members who declined to comment.
Historically the HSTA board has not publicly released information about election results until after they are certified and teachers are notified, Husted said Sunday.
Husted said she thought it was unlikely that the board would publicly disclose what the election irregularities were, but that such decisions were often made in the interest of not impacting a re-election.
But the issues brought up during the election — including campaign materials in recent weeks posted on Facebook that appeared to posit the vote in terms of old versus new guard — are indicative of changing dynamics within the teachers union, Husted said.
Because of teacher turnover rates in Hawaii, the union has a lot of members who haven’t grown up with HSTA, Husted said, adding that the union should perhaps make a bigger effort in the future to explain why it isn’t releasing certain information.
“I would very much like to know how my fellow members voted (in aggregate) and WHY the election results weren’t certified,” one teacher commented on the HSTA Facebook page Saturday. “If you purport to represent me and my colleagues, transparency is not a preference but a necessity. I need to trust my union. #tellusnow“
Michal Nowicki, who has been a member of the union for seven years, said he’s upset about numerous transparency issues surrounding the election, including what the irregularities were and why the runoff for vice president was by paper ballot only when both paper and electronic ballots were available in the first round.
“It does not sit well with me that the board gets to decide whether to ratify our vote after they see the results, yet they do not share these results with us,” Nowicki said in an email to Civil Beat. “It does not sit well with me that the board speaks of irregularities even though a third party (Intelliscan) was commissioned (and paid for with our union dues, I presume) to make sure the election runs smoothly.”
The HSTA has not had a contested election since 1972, when the vice president lost his bid for presidency to another teacher and then contested the election results in court, Husted said.
According to Husted, then-vice president Charles Campbell successfully argued that the way the union bylaws were written only the vice president could run for president. The court agreed and installed him in the post instead of the Theodore Waitt, who had secured the most votes. The union then rewrote the bylaws and Waitt won the next election.
In another election in the 2000s, the voting was halted because election rules were broken during campaigning, said Mossman. The votes were tossed out before they were counted, however, and a new election was held, she said.